Ignace van Swieten

Ignace van Swieten was the first openly gay Dutch sportsman, and that within the very homophobic soccer sports world. Not very tall, cute, with good manners, eloquent, elegant, he stood out in any case. Being gay just just added to it. He was born in 1943 in a POW camp in Indonesia, came with his parents to The Netherlands and became a probation worker. In his spare time he was a soccer referee and a very good one. From 1976 he was a referee on Dutch professional soccer level, from 1983 on on a European level.  He came out in the early eighties; he was respected by the soccer players and most of the public. When some houligans chanted that some player was of Van Swieten’s team, they meant he was gay.  Today that would sound quite friendly from houligans’ mouths.

Serious trouble came not from the soccer world but from the Dutch police: when he (as probation worker) was attacked with a hammer by one of his drug addicted clients, the client said Van Swieten had harassed him sexually. The police believed the drug addict immediately and Van Swieten was arrested while still in the hospital and found guilty and convicted. Later it turned out to be a lie: the client wanted money, there was never any sexual harassment. The police was mainly led by their own homophobia. But it was too late: because of the attack he couldn’t be a referee anymore. He became a teacher at sports academies, in The Netherlands but also in Africa.

In the 80’s we invited him for a lecture and discussion. He was sure there were gay professional soccer players in The Netherlands. He urged them to come out. Until now they never did. Van Swieten died suddenly in 2005 while on holiday in Gran Canaria.


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