When FSV Veritas Wittenberge/Breese and SC Hertha Karstädt meet, things can get heated. The two football clubs in the district league don’t get along very well, which is also due to the change of some players.
A few weeks ago, however, it was different: the players and fans of both clubs got together, clapped and cheered together as a big unit. The reason for this was referee Pascal Kaiser, who recently came out as bisexual. In a regional newspaper, the 23-year-old spoke about the fact that he no longer wanted to hide. “And then it went through the Prignitz, so to speak,” says Kaiser. “But the reactions were overwhelming, they were the biggest highlight of my time as a referee.”
Pascal Kaiser has been a referee for seven years now. Before that he played football himself, but he injured himself several times and “finally gave up the sport.” However, he didn’t want to give up football completely, so Kaiser completed a referee’s course and began refereeing games in his home town of Cologne. Doing justice to all sides is often not that easy. “Sometimes the leash is a little longer, sometimes a little shorter. In addition, you know the players in the districts and it is sometimes difficult to be impartial.”
Kaiser moved to Perleberg to his partner last year. Since then he has not only worked there as a referee, but also works as a nurse, which is quite a challenge due to the shift schedule. “But my colleagues are considerate of the fact that I would like to referee a game at the weekend.” Kaiser says it has always been his wish to come out in football.
The idea of doing this in an interview was not planned, but rather a “short-cut reaction”. During his time as a player, he didn’t dare to talk about it with his teammates. The fear of rejection was too great. “We were all in the shower and then the classic statements like: Don’t drop the soap. These are small statements that mean a lot to you.” In addition, bisexuality is hardly an issue in sport and bisexual athletes are not “taken seriously”. “For many, there is only gay and straight. Those who come out as bisexual are told they just haven’t found each other yet.”
Especially in sports, the hurdles for queer people are still very high and there is a lack of role models. It is all the more important that internationally renowned footballers like Adelaide United’s Josh Cavallo come out during their professional careers, says Kaiser. “In retrospect, he was my role model.” Since coming out, Kaiser has felt “extremely liberated”. So free that he not only took part in Christopher Street Day for the first time, but also helped to organize the very first CSD in Prignitz.
Accompanied by a music truck, more than 1,000 people marched through downtown Wittenberg waving rainbow flags. Later on the stage there were political speeches and drag show. “It was just wonderful and it was so much fun.” Kaiser can also feel some changes on the soccer field: “I notice that I whistle completely differently and am much more relaxed on the field. I no longer pay attention to how I run, how I hold the card and how I whistle. Before that I was tense all the time.”
With his coming out, Kaiser wants to pave the way for other people in football, encourage them and be a role model. Immediately after the interview, several queer fellow referees, two players and a club board member wrote to him about their experiences and fears of coming out. The club board told him that he was afraid of losing his authority; a referee feared that he would no longer be taken seriously and the players were concerned that they would end up on the bench. “The fear of being excluded is there for everyone.”
Kaiser therefore wants more educational work within the clubs – at all levels. Coaches should ban homophobic statements and counteract them, “because these taunts in the dressing room give homosexual players a lot of headwind and this creates the fear of not being normal.” start at the World Cup in Qatar.
In the Gulf state, queer people are criminalized and theoretically even face the death penalty. Research also revealed that several World Cup hotels had turned down requests from queer guests. Two journalists had posed as a gay couple. Josh Cavallo also said he was afraid to travel to the emirate should Australia qualify. “Changes are needed from the very top and that also includes canceling participation in the World Cup,” says Kaiser, “otherwise no player will dare to come out.”
He himself is a member of the “Love knows no break” petition, which aims to increase pressure on the emirate to end discrimination against queer people. Kaiser hopes that the issue will continue to receive a lot of attention in the coming months leading up to the World Cup, but also after the tournament is over and the eyes of the international sporting world are no longer on Qatar.