Monday, 13 August 2012

Olympic celebration - but a games for all?

With record crowds, some great sporting action and memories to inspire future generations, the 30th Olympiad was a triumphant success. But, beneath the cheers, celebratory music and fireworks there was a worrying statistic. Tim Ridgway, of The Justin Campaign, asks where were the openly gay sporting role models?

For two weeks, the world's gaze was on London as the city hosted the Olympic games. From world records to unprecedented crowds, it was a fortnight to remember as the finest athletes from across five continents gathered in a small corner of the east end to battle it out for the coveted crown as the world's best.

TEARS OF JOY: Sir Chris Hoy
There were tears of joy - Sir Chris Hoy (right) and Jessica Ennis for two - and tears of disappointment - Victoria Pendleton and the Brazilian football team among them - as competitors gave their all.

But, while the International Olympic Committee made much of the fact this year's games saw some Middle Eastern countries send women athletes for the first time, there was a very low number of athletes who were openly gay.

According to Outsports, there were 23 athletes at London 2012 who were openly gay.

The research adds that this in an increase on previous games, in Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008.

Of the 23 there are some inspiring stories and a hell of a lot of success.

More than half won medals of some colour, with US footballer Megan Rapinoe and GB equestrian star Carl Hester among those heading home with Gold medals.

It led to comedian Sue Perkins jokingly tweet: "So there you have it, today's syllogistic argument has taken us to the conclusion that if you're gay you WILL win a gold".
INSPIRING: Megan Rapinoe

One of the more famous gay sportsmen is Australian diver Matt Mitcham, who failed to progress beyond the semi-final stage of the 10m diving competition despite being defending champion.

Then there is the South African archer Karen Hultzer who hopes coming out at the London Olympics will help people struggling with their sexuality and add to the fight against homophobia in sport.

But considering there are nearly 11,000 athletes from more than 200 countries competing, this is a shockingly low percentage which is not even worth calculating. It is certainly far lower than the three to eight per cent figure which population experts believe to be LGBT in the world.

Why is it that when the world comes together to celebrate there is dismal number of people who are openly LGBT?

For some representatives of certain countries, notably those in African and Middle Eastern countries where homosexuality is illegal or met with the death penalty, there are clear reasons for perhaps maintaining silence on the issue.

But countries in western Europe, such as USA, the Netherlands and Great Britain, surely there are more athletes who are LGBT but have chosen not to publicly admit it?

The oft used arguments in football is that there is too much pressure on any individual that does come out; that fans are not ready for it; that the media will make the person's life difficult. Perhaps, with the intense four-year training programme that people that go though, the last thing they want is the added publicity of known as, to use an example, "the gay rower" or "that lesbian boxer"? 

Whatever the reasons, sporting authorities across the world must ask themselves if they really are delivering a games for all. Nutritionists, physiotherapists, sports psychologists - all are seen as integral to a winning team. But is there enough of a support network for those who want to come out? 

The Justin Campaign has always held the view that it is up to individuals to decide if and when they want to come out. No one should ever be backed into a corner and forced into making a highly personal decision under the media microscope. But it should also not be something people are frightened of.

Looking at the examples above, there are plenty across a wide range of sports who have come out. Anyone that wants to take the step should not be scared. Look at the above role models. There are people out there who are out and proud. What's more they are quietly doing their bit to smash prejudice and picking up a few medals along the way.

SUCCESS: The closing ceremony of London 2012
In football in particularly there have been major strides in recent years towards making the beautiful game an equal one. Perhaps, with soccer becoming an established sport at the Olympics, it could lead the way in promoting LGBT inclusion? Perhaps it will be led by individual countries? Perhaps it will be led by the International Olympic Committee?

Former NBA basketballer John Amaechi, who worked for the BBC during London 2012, summed it up best in a recent interview. He said: “I do see encouraging signs. There is a generation of young people for whom achievement is important and sexuality is secondary.

“But there is another generation who are dinosaurs. Who want things as they used to be without those pesky women, black people and gays getting in the way. And quite a few of those people work in sports administration.

“In the end, perhaps we will get to the point where it doesn’t matter so much, it doesn’t define you. But we need help to get there. No minority in history has gained any measure of acceptance without the help of the majority.”

Looking ahead to four years time in Rio, would it not be great to see the numbers of openly LGBT athletes rise again? Perhaps this is the legacy that organisers of London were talking about: a true games for all.

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