August 18, 2008
Globe and Mail
Gay Olympians in short
BEIJING — Only 10 of the 10,500 athletes competing in the
Beijing Olympics are openly gay, according to a study by a gay website.
Some gay athletes fear that coming out would bring disapproval
from fans and team mates, others worry about the damage to endorsements,
Outsports.com said. Unwarranted media attention could also detract
from their performances, it added.
Nine of the gay athletes named by Outsports were lesbians and their
sports ranged from fencing to cycling. Just one, Australian diver
Matthew Mitcham, was a man.
Outsports said this must be way short of the real figure and argued
that a more accurate estimate could even reach 1,000.
"For all we know, there is a gay rower or badminton player
somewhere known as gay within his or her sport but not in a larger
public context," it said.
Outsports found the figure disappointing especially after the efforts
of tennis players like Martina Navratilova and Amelie Mauresmo to
be more open about their sexuality.
Eli Portnoy, chief brand strategist at the Portnoy Group, a U.S.
consultancy specialised in branding, said being openly gay could
still work against athletes.
May brands would be wary about promoting a gay athlete, he said,
citing the example of U.S. diving gold medallist Greg Louganis whose
endorsements waned once he came out.
Australian diver Mitcham said he just wanted to be known as a successful
Australian diver and argued that his homosexuality should not be
"It's everybody else who thinks it's special when homosexuality
and elite sport go together," he said.
Outsports said it may be a good idea for athletes to take their
time before speaking out about the issue.
"The vast majority of Olympic athletes are under 30, a time
when even people who are not elite jocks are wrestling with their
sexuality," Outsports said.
"Being an Olympic athlete requires full-time dedication and
a lot of things get put on hold. It is just easier to hide and deal
with one's sexuality later," it added.
Outsports concluded that gays still faced a major battle being
recognised in sport for their talent, not their sexuality.
"In a classic Catch-22, the reluctance of gay athletes to
come out will be tough to overcome until more like them come forward
and prove that being a 'gay athlete' is not an oxymoron or hindrance