Tuesday 9 August 2011

Olympic Countdown

Since this article first appeared a lot of new information has been revealed and new research has been carried out. This article should be seen as a mere snapshot of the information known at the date of its publication. Several facts may now be outdated or inaccurate.

With less than a year to go before the London Olympics I thought I’d share with you some research I’ve been doing over the past couple of years. LGBT History Month is held in the UK every February. For 2011 and 2012 the theme of sport. This got me thinking about lgbt involvement at the Olympics and sport in general. Two projects came out of this:

1)       my quest to list all lgbt Olympians, and
2)       the history of Ancient Greek sport.

The second of these produced a presentation called “The Gayest Games in Ancient Greece”, which told the origin and history of the Hyakinthia Festival and the Great Panathenean Games. I’ll tell you all about that another time.

The first project produced a list of 100 lgbt Olympians, “groundbreaking” as Nottinghamshire’s Rainbow Heritage put it. I suppose it is in a way as no-one has done it before. I managed to produce a chart with 100 names in time for a local exhibition in LGBT History Month 2011. Since then I’ve added a more names.

Some lgbt Olympians are well known – John Curry, Martina Navratilova and Matthew Mitcham. Some were not “out” when they competed, and a few of them were involved in controversies around their sexuality or gender. In fact, one German athlete was sent to a Nazi concentration camp because he was gay.

Fear of homophobia still prevents a lot of people from coming out. One of these was a competitor at the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics, an American soldier. This created a double whammy of a problem, because even if this athlete came out he/she would be have been fired from the US Army because of their ban on serving lgbt soldiers. That anonymous athlete (whose identity I DO know but won’t reveal his/her name) is still, to the best of my knowledge, still closeted in the army.

What I would like to do in 2012 is bring you some of the stories of athletes who are out. I probably won’t get through them all.

The London Olympics has already become the gayest Olympics so far with a Diversity Group, and an invitation offered to lgbt athletes to come to the games. There’s even a special Olympic Pride badge.

I don’t think the sexuality of the athletes is as important as the quality of sport, but there are thousands of athletes who still fear prejudice and discrimination for other athletes and their own sports organisations.

For July 2012, when the Olympics take place, I’ll go all out to bring you as much information as possible and, fingers crossed, a new chart for you to download containing my target of 125 lgbt Olympians.

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