SAO PAULO (AP)A FIFA-ranked referee in Brazil says he hopes his announcement that he is gay will inspire others in soccer.

The 41-year-old Igor Benevenuto is one of the country’s main video assistant referees, and he also takes charge of some matches in Brazil’s top two divisions.

Benevenuto said he had used his referee’s job to ”hide.”

”Soccer was for men and since an early age I knew I was gay. There was not a more perfect place to hide my sexuality,” Benevenuto told TV Globo in a show broadcast on Sunday. ”Playing wasn’t an option, so I took the only road I had.”

Benevenuto now wants his announcement to help others.

”There are many gay people in soccer,” he said, adding that the vast majority still feel they can’t talk openly. ”We exist and we deserve to speak about it, live normal lives.”

Benevenuto lives in the city of Sete Lagoas in Minas Gerais state. He returned to his work as a nurse at a public hospital in the city when soccer came to a halt during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brazilian referees are paid by the match and most are semi-professional.

Jorge Jose Emiliano dos Santos (1954-1995) was a popular referee in Brazil and oversaw professional matches after saying he was gay.

While same-sex marriage is legal in Brazil, it is still a dangerous country for members of the LGBTQ community, with hundreds of killings each year.

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