Popular goalie up for sports personality prize

Openly gay PhutiMinaj has the support of his Tornado team mates


Tornado’s number one goalkeeper Phuti Lekoloane has been nominated in the Chevrolet Feather Awards’ sports personality of the year category.

PhutiMinaj, as the shot stopper has been nicknamed, will be up against Rio Olympics silver medallist Sunette Viljoen and KZN LGBT Recreation founder Hlengiwe Buthelezi.

The nominations were announced on Wednesday at Constitution Hill in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.

The winners will be announced on November 15 at a yet to be announced venue, with the flamboyant Somizi hosting them.

The awards recognise and celebrate the LGBTI community and any iconic personalities and achievers who inspire the community.

The goalkeeper said he was proud to have been nominated for the awards.

“I’m excited because it’s something I was not expecting and I’m grateful for the recognition. It means someone is watching what I’m doing,” said Lekoloane.

“I would love to win the award, but then being nominated for the award is something else. It’s really big for me. However it goes, I feel like it’s already a win for me.”

The proudly gay soccer star from Limpopo made national headlines last year when he came out.

And in a country and a sport that can be homophobic, with many players hiding any preferences not mainstream, Lekoloane’s teammates embraced him. Tornado assistant coach Vuyisani Mangaliso said they did not care about their players’ sexuality.

“We want our players to be themselves because they won’t perform if they aren’t themselves. Because if every time he comes to training we tell him to act like someone he’s not or even to isolate himself from the team, that would be discrimination.

“And we told him from the onset to be himself, and he has a great work ethic.

“It’s not easy as a soccer player to come out of the closet because there are a lot of soccer players that are gay but they are in the closet. We are happy for him as a team,” he said.

Mangaliso said Lekoloane’s nomination meant “we are doing something right as a team”.

“He’s worked hard to be there, and I hope he wins it.

“But I hope he’ll focus well on what he wants to achieve with his career.

“So as the club we are happy for him, and even his performance over the weekend was tops and I think he sees himself straight into the National First Division or the PSL.”

But for now Lekoloane is focussed on helping the Mdantsane outfit once again winning the ABC Motsepe League.

“I’m back at Tornado for another season and I’m ready to fight again for the league. Because last season when we went to the playoffs I learnt that nothing comes easy.

“One needs to be strong emotionally because you might be in top shape physically, but you can still lose it emotionally,” he said.

“I’m proudly gay and I’m lucky to have a team that accepted me for who I am, as they always support me at all times, on and off the pitch.”