Croatia and Barcelona FC footballer Ivan Rakitić is facing a backlash after anti-gay comments from a 2012 interview resurfaced on Twitter.
Rakitić’s interview with the Spanish website Offside Mag was shared by football journalist Chris Williams on Friday (May 10).
Williams posted a quote from Rakitić, who is reported to have said: “I respect homosexuals, but I do not want those people in the locker room.
“I would not leave a team for that, because I respect a homosexual equal to a black, a fat or a dwarf, but if possible I prefer not to have gays in my life.”
Rakitić was responding to a question about the Croatian Football Federation president Vlatko Markovic, who was fined in 2011 for saying that “in no way could a gay man play in the national football team” and that “unfortunately, football is only played by healthy people.”
Ivan Rakitić comments a ‘misunderstanding’
“Possibly the worst quote attributed to a footballer in a very very long time,” Williams wrote.
Followers called the footballer’s words “disgusting,” “shocking” and “horrific.”
In 2014, Rakitić told Hrvatska Reprezentacija that his comments were a “misunderstanding.”
“I’m an open person and I have no problems with gay players,” he said, according to The Independent.
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“I’m open to sharing a dressing room with anyone who is a good person and a good player, and sexual orientation is not important to me.”
Homophobia rife in football
The world of football is notoriously difficult to navigate for LGBT+ people, with homophobic chants commonplace at stadiums in England and throughout Europe.
On April 14, Liverpool fans were heard shouting “Chelsea rent boys” during a match at Liverpool’s Anfield Stadium, which Liverpool officials condemned.
One week prior, Danish footballer Viktor Fischer was targeted with anti-gay slurs during two separate matches.
“I experienced specific songs against me, directed at me by name, saying I was homosexual,” Fischer told TV2.
“That’s not the problem,” he continued. “I have nothing against being called one thing or another. The problem for me here is that the word ‘homo’ was used as an insult.
“That is a very, very bad culture for young people and generally for everyone who comes to a football stadium to see football.”
On Monday (May 13), the French football league announced that it will introduce new measures to combat the practice, with offenders facing heavy fines and possible prison sentences.
The move comes after a match between fierce rivals Paris Saint-Germain and Marseille was marred by homophobic chants on March 17.