Jakub Jankto: ‘Coming out means I can play without hiding’

18 October 2023 0 By Total Football News
Jakub Jankto, playing for CagliariJakub Jankto, who can play as a left-back, a midfielder or a winger, joined Cagliari on a two-year contract in July

It was the 44-second video that changed Jakub Jankto's life forever.

Posted in February on a newly created Twitter feed, the Czech Republic footballer told the world that he was tired of hiding who he was.

By the end of the clip, the 27-year-old had become the first current international male footballer to publicly come out as gay. Suddenly, he was being talked about across the football world.

"Whenever I opened TikTok or Instagram, the first video was about me," Jankto says in an exclusive interview with BBC Sport.

"Everyone is speaking about you! I knew it would be like that for the first two, three weeks, but I needed time to myself to breathe for a little bit, to recover.

"When you receive thousands, maybe millions, of messages from people saying they appreciate me and thank me, it makes me really happy, and the people were amazing.

"But it does put pressure on me. It's not easy to be the first guy at my level who says: 'Yeah, I'm gay.'"

'The first time we played England, it was not a good game for us'

Jakub Jankto, playing for the Czech Republic, is surrounded by three England players during a match at Wembley in 2019Jankto was part of a Czech Republic side beaten heavily by England in a 2019 European Championship qualifier

To understand the significance of Jankto's decision, you need to know his history.

His story started in his native Prague, where he dreamed of emulating Pavel Nedved and Tomas Rosicky, the Czech stars of his youth, by making it as a professional.

To do that, he travelled to Italy, where he signed his first top-flight contract with Serie A's Udinese.

Spells at Sampdoria and La Liga's Getafe followed, along with the first of 45 caps for the Czech Republic - including two appearances against England.

"The first time I played you, we lost 5-0 without any chances - and I remember thinking this was not a good game for us," Jankto laughs.

"But playing for your national team is the biggest thing you can do, and getting into the quarter-finals of Euro 2020 with the Czech Republic is the biggest success I've had personally, as well as for us as a team."

The Czech Republic came through a group containing both England and Scotland at Euro 2020, then knocked out the Netherlands in the last 16 before losing to Denmark in the quarter-finals.

Jankto had tasted a level of footballing success he'd dreamed of as a child, and he badly wanted more of it.

He wanted to keep improving, to keep growing as a player.

But for that to happen, the midfielder knew he'd have to take a leap of faith, and do something that no active male international had ever done before.

Jakub Jankto, playing for the Czech Republic in a white change strip, holds of the challenge of Jurrien Timber of the Netherlands during their last 16 match at Euro 2020Jankto helped the Czech Republic beat the Netherlands in Budapest at Euro 2020

'You have to live your life like you want'

"I was 13 or 14 years old when I knew that something was... not unnatural, but different," Jankto says about his sexuality.

"As a kid, you don't think too much about it.

"But when I tried my first relationship with a girlfriend, it wasn't like it was with a boy, you know?

"And then when I got into professional football teams, being gay was still seen as 'not normal', and football is still a little bit homophobic, I think.

"So I was scared when I was 18 or 19 and next to other guys and couldn't open messages on WhatsApp, because I always had the fear that someone might see a message or a photo from a guy."

Jankto kept that fear to himself for years - through his time in Serie A and La Liga, right up until his return on loan to his first club Sparta Prague last season - until he realised that keeping his sexuality hidden was holding him back, both on and off the pitch.

"Playing professional football is a dream of mine, and I'm always searching for ways to get better," Jankto says.

"And coming out is what I needed to do to get better.

"I also thought to myself: 'Well look, Jakub, you are a professional footballer, but you have your life that you have to live like you want.' And for me, that was fundamental."

'I'm really happy that I can play without hiding or being scared'

Jakub Jankto playing for Getafe in 2022Jankto joined Spanish club Getafe on a two-year deal in 2021, but spent last season on loan at Sparta Prague, earning a Czech title medal

So Jankto decided to tell his story - and was supported publicly by his former partner Marketa Ottomanska, with whom he has a son, and from whom he separated in 2021.

Now he's taking a chance to reflect on the significance of his decision to come out.

"I wasn't scared when I did it," he says.

"It was a huge moment for me - but after six, seven months, I can say it wasn't a mistake.

"If I could do it again, I definitely would, because it helped myself and I think it helped many, many people. It was a huge moment for all footballers, and many professional footballers at many clubs wrote to me, thanking me for it.

"I think it set a good, positive example for everybody, and now I'm really happy that I can play without hiding or being scared. I just carry on like nothing has happened, and that's really, really good."

That's not to say it's all been smooth sailing.

Jankto has received social media abuse since opening up about his sexuality, but concedes a degree of surprise that no-one at his level of the game had taken this step before him.

"I was thinking about the situation, and thought: 'You are the first case like this'," he says.

"It's 2023, I don't know how many millions of people are gay, and you're the first gay footballer in the top five leagues - this is strange! I was surprised by that."

But mostly, Jankto is keen to stress how normal things have been - especially since he returned to Italy to play for Serie A's Cagliari.

He says: "It's good that everyone knows, but with the guys, we're not speaking about it. They just say 'let's hang out', and I say 'I'll come with my son or my friends', and there's no problem.

"And you know, I was expecting that at away games, somebody in the crowd would whistle at me - but nobody did. Just nobody, nobody! And I was like: 'Oh my god, this is so good.' It's so good that everyone's supporting me, I feel really great here."

Jankto is hoping that the freedom he's felt since coming out translates into a return to the Czech international set-up, having last played for his country in June 2022.

If it does, the midfielder knows he'll be doing it for the first time as his authentic self.

"I'm definitely proud of myself, because if I can get through this situation, I can go through every situation in the rest of my life," he says.

"And if you say that gay people are proud of me, I say that I'm proud of you, because I know how you feel. I know how people feel if they have to hide something, and I wish you good luck and stay strong, because there's no reason to be scared.

"And maybe we'll see more examples like me, not just in football but in different worlds as well."

Cagliari and Czech Republic footballer Jakub Jankto was speaking to Jack Murley on the BBC's LGBT Sport Podcast. Hear new episodes every Wednesday on BBC Sounds.

This news item was provided by the BBC Sport - Football website - the original link is: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/67129042?at_medium=RSS&at_campaign=KARANGA