Photo: Laurence Griffiths/AFP/Getty Images
Jakub Jankto’s video was viewed a million times on Twitter within four hours of being uploaded. On Instagram he got 100,000 likes in the same period. Every organizing body, from the Premier League to Fifa, and clubs around the world issued statements of solidarity. Jankto is a Czech international footballer who has played in La Liga and Serie A and is in the prime of his career. How many transformative moments could his story be for LGBTQ+ representation in men’s football?
“There’s no doubt it will inspire people across the game,” says Jon Holmes, founder of Sports Media LGBT+, an advocacy group building a network of LGBT+ people and allies within UK sport. “As we know, it has such a powerful effect on young people in particular. Huge fans of the Czech team or Sparta Prague will be there and see themselves there, their own stories reflected in what he has done.”
Related: ‘I don’t want to hide anymore’: Czech international Jakub Jankto comes out as gay
Jankto’s video is short – 44 seconds – and extremely eloquent. “I’m gay and I don’t want to hide myself anymore,” he says. The message is an effective piece of communication, says Holmes, and shows that every situation in which a person feels able to come out is the culmination of a unique story and a combination of personal circumstances.
“Everybody has so many different components and complications to their own lives, whether it’s family or faith, maybe it’s about the profile they’ve already built in football,” says Holmes.
Jankto is the most impressive active player to come out, in a long time. But anyone hoping for a domino effect before Jankto’s age and personal history – he was a prodigy who moved to Udinese before playing a minute of senior football – has yet to have his wishes fulfilled; he has a three-year-old son from a previous relationship – he could be as significant in helping to change attitudes as his seniority within the game.
“[Jankto’s statement] It’s quite significant in that he’s 27 years old, he’s already built an image of himself in the minds of the public, in the minds of the fans,” says Holmes. “To break that mold there and go against the image that has been created around it is a significant thing. It takes incredible character to take on that responsibility, to be that representative.”
Holmes is keen to point out, however, that it is not helpful and that the actions of individual players are unlikely to succeed in changing an entrenched culture. In fact the last lines of Jankto’s message – “This is not entertainment, the purpose of this video is to inspire others” – were interpreted as a reference to Iker Casillas and Carles Puyol making fun of him coming out last year.
“In this space of LGBT representation in sports there are a lot of fronts still to be broken and it’s the man who has stepped forward to do that today,” says Holmes. “I think it says a lot about the state of your industry and the environments people have created if you have people who feel confident and comfortable enough to share their truth. Of course there is so much representation in other areas of life, in the arts, culture and politics in particular. But not in men’s football.
“I don’t put the pressure on the players, I put the pressure if it needs to be on the people who create those environments, the locker room cultures, the other places where players gather and discuss things. Whether or not some people are able to be themselves in the dressing room space we don’t know, but of course in the public space it’s clear they haven’t felt confident enough to share that yet.
“Yes, it should be a matter of concern for the Premier League that nobody has come out yet. But there are many different aspects to this, including how the media talks about this topic. It can put a lot of pressure on players, so it’s not just about the authorities, it’s about everyone in the game working towards a better future.”