Matthew Mitcham and Out Sports

27 August 2008

Following my earlier post about Matthew Mitcham, the only openly gay male in the Beijing Olympics, he won, much to my delight, Gold in a suitably impressive way. I knew little about diving until two weeks ago when the media-overhyped and pressurised British 14 year old was diving. But as time went on my interest grew, for obvious reasons, and because I realised what a technical and impressive sport it is. Matthew Mitcham’s incredible last dive was unprecedentedly impressive, according the the BBC commentary (although their follow-up news articles focused much more on the Tom Daley’s seventh position) – not bad to be seventh in the world though eh?)

In my mind, and responding to some of the comments on my last post, Matthew Mitcham’s sexuality shouldn’t matter in his sport (unlike sexuality in diving did ten years ago). But what having an out gay man at the Olympics does – especially one that wins gold – is it empowers others. It’s not just high profile life which benefits from such openness. It gives hope to the other gay boys at school, for example, who feel like their sexuality’s a barrier to them playing sport.

Only ten of this years Olympians were openly gay, yet it’s likely many more were open about their sexuality to other athletes. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if other gay athletes from countries where opinions on sexuality are more liberated could come out and inspire those who may not feel able to do so. What better means than through an international event where performance matters more than who you’re attracted to?

Matthew Mitcham shouldn’t be known as ‘that gay diver’. He says…

“I just want to be known as the Australian diver who did really well at the Olympics… It’s everyone else who thinks it’s special when homosexuality and elite sport go together”.

…but he should be known as an incredible diver, and someone whose bravery and athletic performance inspire others – regardless of sexuality.

Interestingly, this comes at a time when the International Gay and Lesbian Football Association World Cup is on in London. Although this is unlikely to be seen as ‘elite sport’, the tournament has great aims behind it:

We are dedicated to providing a world class event which will show that London can provide a safe and welcoming environment, which pushes the boundaries of tolerance and acceptance and which encourages gay men and women to promote themselves in a positive and healthy manner.

We firmly believe that football should be enjoyable for all, free from discrimination on the grounds of sexuality and accessible to people of all backgrounds and all sporting abilities.

So congratulations to Matthew Mitcham, and the IGLFA, for helping to remind us that whatever our sexual preferences we can play sport. It’s an inspiration to me that sport – something which, for many, is a euphemism for the closet can be inclusive. In a world where homophobia’s not dead and buried, where, in the papers today, prospective City employees, for example, feel unable to their sexuality, it’s good to know there are role models and people to look up to even whether or not sport’s your game…

…which reminds me, I should really go to the gym…

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Olympians Out in China

14 August 2008

It was with interest, and by accident, this morning I stumbled upon Matthew Mitcham. Not literally, but by noticing a number of facebook friends had become ‘fans’ of his. It wasn’t until I started looking into it I realised that it’s not just because he’s a good looking diver, like the others I’ve mentioned. He’s also gay and came out publicly in Australia this year.

Interesting reading how struggling with issues in his life has made him stronger. The Sydney Morning Herald said:

Mitcham thinks he would not be going to the Olympics if not for the hardship he endured.

He said: “I probably wouldn’t have as much of a fighting spirit. The more you have experienced, the more you have to draw off. I look at the last 20 years as a long, winding path of lessons and some hardship. I hope the rest of my life isn’t straight because that could be boring. I hope it continues to wind, but maybe not so tumultuous. I hope I do have a long and winding path and more lessons to learn. I look forward to that.”

He’s not the only gay olympian this year. It’s good to see out athletes who can compete alongside other athletes at the games. It’s great for sport, and it’s great for gay people growing up who may feel alienated, as I did, from sport.

And surely, it can’t be a bad thing for China where gay people in some ways feel the same in society as gay people around the world in sport can: that you have to hide who you are.

One of China’s gay campaigners says: “Many Chinese gays – burdened with ignorance, discrimination and fear – are unable to comprehend their homosexual yearnings and close themselves off from society, tormented by self-hate. After the age of 30, more than 90 percent of gays get married – because social pressure makes them believe they have no choice”. Intimidated by society and the police gay people in china tend to live secret lives. (more)

How great it is for gay olympians to be competing in China. It’s a wonderful way to show China and the world that gay people can be part of a diverse group of people. I wish them good luck and hope that young gay people all around the world realise that they can achieve what they want to and that sexuality should not be a barrier.


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