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Sexuality and sport

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When will this stop being an issue? Why can’t the UK lead the way? When will the rest of the World catch up?

In a way, I feel that by writing this I’m contributing to the problem as, ultimately, we all want to get to a place where there isn’t even an issue to discuss.

With the Winter Olympics in Sochi, the issue again rose to the surface, the question being “why do our male and female athletes feel they can’t come out?”. If we were living in Russia the answer would be fairly obvious, but in the UK we should be ashamed that our culture is not supportive enough and open enough to allow elite athletes this opportunity.

Clearly the issue is not a new one, Martina Navratilova came out in 1981, as did Billie Jean King, although the later did not choose to do so voluntarily. One of the saddest incidents is that of footballer, Justin Fashanu, who came out in an article in the Sun in 1990, after that time no club offered him a full time contract. Justin was then subjected to allegations of sexual assault in the US in 1998, at which time various sexual acts were illegal in a number of States. As a result of this Fashanu took his own life. He always denied that any assault had taken place and at all times claimed that the acts were consensual.

Unbelievably and shockingly, after a landmark case in 2003 when the US Supreme Court struck down all such laws, there are still 17 states who have not repealed or amended their laws and 3 states who specifically target laws towards sexual activities between same sex couples.

Back in this country, a personal hero of mine, Gareth Thomas (not just because of his hair style), came out in 2009, after he had retired from international rugby having accumulated 100 Test caps and captained the British and Irish Lions. Even more recently though, there seems to be a real momentum, starting when Tom Daley announced his relationship with another man and swiftly followed by Thomas Hitzlsperger, Michael Sam and Casey Stoney.

Hitzlsperger stated he waited until his football career had ended to come out due to concerns around the abuse he may receive and possible difficulties with clubs unwilling to employ him. Whilst on 8 May, Michael Sam is likely to become the first openly gay player on the roster of an NFL team. Reports from the US are already suggesting they expect Sam to be a later draft pick due to his announcement.

Most recently, Casey Stoney spoke to the BBC about her sexuality although in 2012 she had been listed in the Independent’s list of top 50 most influential gay and lesbian people in the UK.

It shouldn’t be an issue. By the end of March this year there will be a number of same sex marriages and if the government had sorted out the procedure for converting civil partnerships to marriages, there would have been a good number more! I sincerely hope that the momentum created by some of the elite sportsmen and women above is maintained and, in the not too distant future, articles like this don’t exist or if they do, they focus on the following:

30 Grand Slam singles titles, 1 Heineken Cup, 6 Nations Grand Slam winning captain, 12th top international try scorer (all time), 1 Bundesliga title, 1 World Championship Gold, 2 European and Commonwealth Golds, 1 Olympic Bronze, 2 Women’s Premier Leagues, 2 Women’s FA Cups, 1 FA international Player of the Year, 1 Sports Personality of the Year, 1 Young Sports Personality of the Year.