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…