Brazilian referee Igor Benevenuto has come out as gay, making history as the first FIFA-ranked one to do so.

“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 shared on the Nos Armários dos Vestiários podcast.

“I am 41, and 23 of those years have been dedicated to the whistle. Until today I’ve never been the real me. Gays are used to not being themselves.

“There are many gay people in soccer. We exist and we deserve to speak about it, live normal lives.”

In a statement to GloboEsporte, FIFA expressed its support for the referee: “FIFA welcomes and supports referee Igor Benevenuto and his decision to come out. As highlighted at other times, FIFA strongly believes that football is for everyone. And Igor striving to be true to himself is an important moment for football in Brazil and in other countries around the world.

“We hope this decision will encourage others and inspire greater diversity and inclusion in the “beautiful game.”

Benevenuto sharing that he is gay comes just a few months ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which is due to take place in Qatar from November to December of this year.

The tournament has been marred with controversy since it was announced that it would take place in the country, where homosexuality is illegal and the LGBTQ+ community is subjected to discriminatory laws.

Amnesty International also released a 48-page report which concluded that certain harmful practices still take place in Qatar, such as withholding migrant workers’ pay and charging them money to move jobs – something the government there has denied.