Iker Casillas: Controversy in Spain over ex-football star's 'coming out' tweet

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By Sophia Khatsenkova
 Iker Casillas holds the ball during their Champions League quarterfinals, 2nd leg, soccer match against Liverpool, 2019.
Iker Casillas holds the ball during their Champions League quarterfinals, 2nd leg, soccer match against Liverpool, 2019.   -   Copyright  Luis Vieira/Copyright 2019 The AP. All rights reserved

It’s an announcement that took Twitter and the sports world by storm. 

On Sunday, the former Real Madrid goalkeeper and Spain's football star, Iker Casillas, made headlines when he tweeted: “I hope you respect me: I’m gay."

Several personalities, especially from the LGBTQ community, praised the footballer’s courage. But the tweet also triggered a wave of homophobic comments. 

Shortly afterwards, the former Barcelona player Carles Puyol added fuel to the fire when he replied: “It’s time to tell our story, Iker". 

However, some doubted Casillas' post. 

Santi Rivero, elected representative of Madrid and diversity referent within the Madrid branch of the Spanish Socialist Party, had very quickly urged Casillas to delete his tweet and to apologise "if it is a joke". 

"The first footballer to come out of the closet committed suicide because of harassment and mockery. I thought you were a role model and an example," Rivero continued.

A few hours later, Casillas deleted the tweet and told his followers that his account had been hacked. 

Carles Puyol also tweeted an apology: "I have made a mistake. Sorry for a clumsy joke with no bad intentions and totally out of place. I understand that it may have hurt sensitivities. All my respect and support for the LGTBIQA+ community."

This led many Twitter users to believe that the entire exchange was a joke, causing an intense backlash, especially from the LGBTQ community.

Euronews spoke to Bella FitzPatrick, the executive director of the International LGBTQ Youth Organization (IGLYO) who explained why the post was seen by some as insensitive. 

"If coming out is something funny, then it's something laughable. It makes us feel like our identities are a joke and this is all a punchline," she told Euronews.

"Many of us have experienced bullying at school for our sexual orientation. To grow up and to realise that still today it can be seen as a joke makes it harder for people to come out," explained FitzPatrick.

Only a few high-profile male players have ever come out as openly gay in the sport.

One of the exceptions is Australian player Josh Cavallo who condemned Puyol and Casillas for their tweets.

"To see my role models and legends of the game make fun of coming out and my community is beyond disrespectful," he said.