2 min

Olympic gaze

Where are the out athletes?

With more than 10,000 elite athletes taking part in the Olympic Games, you’d figure there’d be a few lesbians and gay men among them.

Only a handful have shared which sexual team they bat for. Take a bow French tennis player Amelie Mauresmo, Australian discus-thrower Lisa-Marie Vizaniari, US diver David Pilcher and Swedish diver Jimmy Sjodin.

There’s also registered domestic partners, Danish handball player Camille Andersen and Norwegian handball player Mia Hundsen.

Neither of the women would talk to the media because, according to their coach, they attended the Olympics to compete, not to talk about their “marriage.”

A possible battle between Andersen and Hundsen did not come to pass, with Norway losing in the semi-finals and Denmark moving ahead in the other semi-final.

None of the other out athletes placed in the medals.

There are undoubtedly more gay athletes out there.

Stuart Borrie, sports director for the Gay Games VI, scheduled for Sydney in 2002, reckons the fear of loss of income or sponsorship can be a deciding factor to come out or stay in.

“It’s their job, it’s their income source. Any gay or lesbian in a public work environment has to make a choice about their level of visibility. And there’re some major corporations who don’t want to be associated with people who’re gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual.”

He adds that a Gay Games sponsor recently received “a considerable number” of complaining phone calls after their sponsorship of the Gay Games was publicly revealed.

But Borrie says he’d like to see more athletes coming out and hopes the Gay Games will do it. “We want more heros who’re part of our community, visible as part of our community and clearly visible in the broader sports community.”

For sheer visibility, however, lesbians and gay men have made their mark behind the scenes as volunteers, event managers, IT and transport experts, and performers – including the 42 drag queens in the closing ceremony. Even the passage of the torch relay through Taylor Square, the heart of Sydney’s lesbian and gay golden mile, drew crowds comparable to Mardi Gras, while the local city council showered the street with silver and pink confetti.

In addition to the valuable lessons Borrie says the Gay Games have learnt through observing and participating in the Olympics – many Gay Games staff and volunteers worked for the Sydney organizing committee for the Olympics – he singles out the involvement of lesbian and gay sporting groups and individuals as crucial.

“We’ve gained some valuable insights into the planning and delivery of a major sporting event. It’s been really positive to have that level of interaction with the Olympics.”

And, with the world’s media on their doorstep, the Gay Games has seized the opportunity to put a lesbian and gay spin on events.

“It’s given us a level of visibility and confidence. That’s positive for Australia, for Sydney, and particularly for us at the Gay Games.”