As we reported earlier in the week OutSports.com had announced that there were only 20 (now 21) openly gay or lesbian athletes in this year’s Olympics in London, United Kingdom.
This is up from only 11 in the Beijing games, but this number still feels incredibly low if you take the ‘reasonable estimate’ from Stonewall that between 5 to 7% of the population is homosexual.
Outsports.com who originally broke the story of the openly gay Olympians said:
“There are stages of being out. There are many more LGBT athletes out to some people — family, friends, some teammates — than feel comfortable publicly declaring their sexual orientation. Athletes are focused solely on their sport and training and coming out publicly is seen as distracting from that. Straight athletes are “out” all the time, easily discussing wives or girlfriends but for a gay athlete, that’s more than just a simple statement.”
However there are some athletes who have embraced the media and their sexuality such as Matthew Mitcham, 24, the Australian diver, who has publicly used Twitter and the media to talk about his sexuality. He is the youngest out gay athlete in the games. When asked whether he saw himself as a ‘gay icon’ by the Australian TV show Sunrise he replied:
“I’ve never really thought of myself as an icon, maybe as a role model, I’ve always wanted to embrace that and be the best role model I can be for young sports people, gay people, just anybody who can draw inspiration from my story…”
Mitcham’s story is inspirational, and his country and countless fans across the globe have taken him into their hearts, regardless of his sexuality. His pranks have been picked up by the UK’s tabloids and his Twitter followers rise in the thousands everyday. Yet, the focus is on his antics rather than his sexuality, so maybe it is time for more athletes to come out, as the fall-out seems to be negligible.
Jim Buzinski from Outsports.com said:
“It helps, (having a strong role model like Mitcham) but people come out on their own terms and based on their own unique circumstances. Mitcham can actually have more of an impact on the wider gay world.”
The question remains however, that while homosexuality across the globe is becoming far more acceptable and as brands and big name companies start to champion gay rights what pressures are gay sportspeople facing? Is it financial?
“I find it hard to believe a company would ditch an out athlete, since that would be an enormous PR blunder. Companies like Nike are very pro-gay and would embrace such a person. But the prejudice and fear remain.” Says Jim Buzinski
The Independent recently reported that the UK is the ‘Best place in Europe’ to be gay, due to its laws and progressive policies supporting and protecting gay rights. So is it time with the world focussed on London and the United Kingdom, for the next month, for closeted sportspeople to feel empowered and to come out?
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Opinions expressed in this article may not reflect those of THEGAYUK, its management or editorial teams. If you'd like to comment or write a comment, opinion or blog piece, please click here.