Ian Thorpe’s decision to go public with the announcement that he is gay has been applauded due to the fact that it may help other young gay men and women find the courage to not be afraid to tell the world, or at least their family and friends that they too are homosexual.
What is sad however is that in this day and age we are happy to accept that actors or dancers may be ‘gay,’ but that still a large section of the community have a problem countenancing the fact that an athlete, especially a male one should be gay. Sadly many of our female athletes are immediately branded as being gay, even if they are not, because of a thought pattern that existed almost a century ago when it was deemed that women were not suited to sport and their playing sport was unseemly.
It was the former President of the International Olympic Committee, Avery Brundage who was quoted as saying during his time in the role, “the ancient Greeks kept women athletes out of the games. They wouldn’t even let them on the sidelines. I’m not sure but that they were right.”
Women have had to suffer incredible slights as they have pursued sporting success and nearly every successful one has at some stage been accused of being gay.
Why is this still the case? For those who say it isn’t, sadly it most definitely is. Hopefully it will not be for much longer.
Equally why should sports fans care whether an athlete is a homosexual or a hetrosexual? Surely most sports fans watch sport for the athleticism of the athletes taking part, because they follow a team, or admire an individual’s ability. Does it really make a difference who they go home to at the end of the day? We applaud great actors, singers and dancers who we know go home to a partner of the same sex, so why is it that sports stars are not allowed to to be who they really are.
Martina Navratilova bravely “came out” when at the top of her tennis career. Some would say that she had the financial stability at that time to do so. The year was 1981, but still all of her sponsors dropped her, even though she was the World number one and already had Grand Slam victories under her belt.
That was over 30 years ago, surely sponsors would not withdraw from a modern day athlete purely because he was “gay?” If they did, would not society today look down on that product rather than the athlete?
Most fans when they watch sport want to see the best perform, and if not the best individuals they want people to go out there and perform as if their life depended on it for their team. Surely that is all we should ask of our sports stars, that they reach for goals we can only dream of, that they entertain us, and make us talk about their exploits long after they have retired. Their sexuality should be irrelevant.
If football really is the working man’s ballet, then why can’t footballers be accepted the same as dancers, if they are gay or straight?
Hopefully an icon such as Ian Thorpe ‘coming out’ will break down even more barriers. Hopefully it will not change the way people felt and still feel about his athletic achievements, as the two are not even closely related. It is sad that he felt he had to make such a public announcement, but if he makes it easier for those following in his footsteps then his greatness goes beyond his success in the Pool. May he now be able to live an unburdened life and be left to live it in peace. He has given us so much, it is now time we gave him his privacy and his own life back; not the one we think he should live.