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Friday June 30, 09:01 AM

Gay footballers still frowned at in Germany


Berlin, June 30 (DPA) Popular wisdom says that football leaves gay men cold. This is not entirely true. Many play football in their free time or cheer on their favourite teams in fan clubs such as Hertha Junxx (Herta Boyzz) here.

When the World Cup rolls around every four years, gay men, like straight men, pay more attention to football. But as Corny Littmann can attest, homosexuality is still taboo in professional football. One should know: Littmann is president of the St. Pauli football club in Hamburg, and openly gay.

This in no way dampens gays' enthusiasm for the World Cup. On Berlin's 'Fan Mile', a boulevard near the Brandenburg Gate set aside for World Cup fans, homosexuals have a meeting place of their own, with a rainbow flag fluttering alongside the flag of Germany.

And at the International movie theatre here, gays and lesbians gather to watch live broadcasts of World Cup matches. 'Gaywatch' is what they call it. A bartender there noted: 'They don't shout as aggressively as heterosexual fans do.'

Helge, who plays for gay amateur football club Vorspiel (Foreplay) here, said it was not important for him to watch the World Cup with other gay men - the sport itself was important. 'We play football like everybody else,' Helge remarked. 'We don't run around in skirts, and we commit fouls.'

He said he had encountered anti-gay prejudices 'very seldom' in the league in which Vorspiel plays.

Gays follow the action on the pitch a bit differently than straight men do, Helge noted. Among gays' favourite players, he said, are Germany's Lukas Podolski and Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal.

While a number of gay politicians have come out of the closet, a harsher wind blows in professional football, where hugs and kisses among men are accepted on the pitch only.

The late professional English footballer Justin Fashanu is a tragic example. He came out as gay, was involved in a number of scandals, and hanged himself in 1998.

There is no way to know how many professional footballers are gay, but it is estimated that at least five percent of all men are. 'Sport is one of our most conservative fields,' said Tatjana Eggeling, a cultural anthropologist in Goettingen and writer of a dissertation on sport and homosexuality.

Little boys in children's football leagues learned terms of contempt like 'queer', 'pansy', and 'poof', she said.

Football club president Littmann, who is also director of Schmidt Theatre in St. Pauli, Hamburg's red-light and entertainment district, said he was sure there were gays in Germany's top professional league. He would not advise them to come out of the closet though.

'If one really did come out as gay, there'd be a media frenzy. I don't know how a 20 or 25-year-old would handle it,' he said. On top of that, he added, the gay player would be the target of abuse both on and around the pitch.

'Being gay, first of all, frightens people,' Littmann said. 'Most people don't know how to deal with it at all.' Moreover, he said, the personal lives of the players played an extremely subordinate role on the team.

Littmann said he did not expect any German footballer to come out as gay soon. As for himself, Littmann once said: 'I'm as faithful to my football club as I'm unfaithful to my lovers.'

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