Football captain tackles rumours but can't kick gay debate into touch

 

TYPE THE name of Philipp Lahm into the Google search engine and the first thing its “autocomplete” feature throws up about Germany’s national football captain is “Philipp Lahm schwul” – “Philipp Lahm gay”.

As the autocomplete algorithm indicates, the 27-year-old’s sexuality is the subject of considerable speculation in Germany since he rose to fame in the 2006 World Cup, intensifying since he took over as captain of the national soccer side.

Now the Bayern Munich fullback has decided to tackle the rumours head on, separating story from fact.

“I am not homosexual. I am not married to Claudia my wife for appearance sake, nor have I a [boy]friend in Cologne with whom I really live,” writes Lahm in a new book, The Subtle Difference. The Bavarian footballer says he is no stranger to admirers of both sexes, recalling how he once found a man “with moist eyes” on his doorstep.

“Philipp, I’m in love with you,” the man reportedly blurted out. “Can I come in?” The answer was negative but, rather than risk a return visit, Lahm moved house.

The Bavarian footballer attributes the rumours about his sexuality to “a man who wanders around Cologne telling everyone who listens that he’s living with me”.

“The speculation doesn’t matter to me . . . I have nothing against homosexuals and I find that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality. But it never ceases to amaze me that these isolated people who tell these stories can have a lot of influence on public opinion.” Hopes that his plain-speaking would settle the matter have backfired in spectacular fashion. Rather than discuss his book – a frank account of life as a modern professional footballer – Lahm finds himself at the centre of Germany’s by now annual discussion about homosexuality in soccer.

As elsewhere in Europe, Germany has no openly gay men in the professional leagues. Given the amount of repressive hide-and-seek going on, it’s perhaps only natural that public debate returns regularly to the issue of gay footballers.

A year ago, the agent of former national captain Michael Ballack caused a fuss for suggesting the German national soccer squad was dominated by a “bunch of gays”.

“All sports journalists seem to already know the alleged homosexual conspiracies enveloping the team of [national coach] Joachim Löw,” wrote Alexander Osang, the Spiegeljournalist who reported the remarks.

He suggested Ballack’s agent was implying the lighter and more elegant style of the current national side was down to a supposed gay infiltration.

That storm blew over but this one may last a little longer because of Lahm’s advice to closeted teammates: stay where you are.

“I would not advise any gay professional footballer to come out,” writes Lahm, citing the case of Justin Fashanu, Britain’s first out professional player.

“I would fear that he could end up like Justin Fashanu who, after he outed himself, was driven into such a corner that he ended up committing suicide.”

Lahm has expressed unhappiness that his 272-page book, filled with far from diplomatic views on trainers and fellow players, has been overshadowed by the gay row.

Cultural anthropologist Tatjana Eggeling, who writes regularly on the issue and advises gay footballers, suggests the issue will return on a regular basis until professional players out themselves.

She suggests the secrecy and fear of discovery is not down to outright homophobia in soccer.

“The football stadium is the last bastion of masculinity where a man can give in to his sadness if his team is relegated,” she wrote in a recent paper.

“Football is very emotional. Everything is exploited to abuse and belittle the opponent: regional and social background or physical weakness.”

In this context homosexuality is seen as the ultimate weakness to be attacked, she suggests, ensuring gay players do everything possible to remain undiscovered. Though no figures exist, she suggests there are fewer than average gay men in professional football.

“Many cut short their careers, unable to withstand the double pressure of proving themselves in a high-performance sport, but concealing their sexual preferences, too,” she said.

Coach Joachim Löw has tried to move on from the gay debate, as has the German football association (DFB). It has had a working group against discrimination and exclusion since 2004.

Three years later it issued a declaration against discrimination that mentioned homophobia explicitly.

“The DFB wants to show that it will accompany a coming out with all means of support at its disposal,” the organisation said.

All that’s lacking now are gay players to come out. Until then, attention will continue to rest on the first professional, non-gay footballer to give an interview to a gay magazine. The year was 2007, the player: Philipp Lahm.