Jack Cullen looks at what is being done to tackle homophobia in the modern Olympics
Married women weren’t allowed to attend the Olympics in ancient Greece. But their husbands walked from miles around to the sacred site of Olympia, where the athletes would compete naked. There were no stopwatches, no sponsors, and no McFlurries. And, according to some accounts, the all-male tournament was rife with drinking and orgies.
Few would disagree that the Games have changed for the better. But, in the area of discrimination at least, it’s quite possible the ancient Olympics were more progressive than their modern successor.
Classics scholar Madeline Miller, who won this year’s Orange Fiction Prize for The Song of Achilles, says: “The earliest reference we have to a games tournament is The Funeral Games that Achilles threw in honour of Patroclus.
“I wouldn’t go so far to say that they were a gay Pride, but only because the notions of gay and straight didn’t exist – men were simply bisexual. Achilles was only interested in his boyfriend Patroclus, though, so yes – The Funeral Games were to commemorate what we could now call a great gay love.”
Today, major hurdles are stacked in front of gay athletes. Nearly 80 of the countries taking part in London 2012 criminalise homosexuality, which seems behind the times to us in London but would have been totally alien to the ancient Greek founders of the events.
Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell is demanding the Olympics Committee ban these countries from competing, on the ground that their policies violate the Olympics Charter.
Although this is unlikely to happen, the fight is not lost. To battle homophobia in the Olympics, The Gay Games was set-up in the early 80s by 1968 decathlete Tom Waddell. It is now the biggest non-discriminating sports tournament in the world.
The organisation has several gay sporting heroes on its ambassadors board, including Winter Olympics star Blake Skjellerup (who admitted he didn’t come out before the Vancouver 2010 Games because he was concerned it might affect his sponsorship).
This summer it is running Pride House in Limehouse, which aims to provide a place to
“celebrate sport for all, while uniting members and friends of the worldwide LGBT community”.
The Limehouse base – located at CA House – is a step down from the original ambition to have the second largest Olympic house at this year’s Games.
Organisers blamed a lack of sponsorship, but were undeterred by the set-back and insist Pride House is ready to make a big noise from August 3-7. There will also be a Pride House Festival, running at the venue itself and throughout London from August 3-12.
Gay Games ambassador and world champion power-lifter Chris Morgan told Scout: “The Olympics has a bad track record with acceptance, so it’s important that we support the handful of gay athletes out there.”
Visitors to Pride House will be cheering on the three openly gay Team GB athletes competing in this year’s Games: equestrian Carl Hester, para-equestrian Lee Pearson and Paralympics volleyball player Clare Harvey.
But they’re not the only ones from the LGBT community who’ll be in the spotlight. Commentator Bob Ballard and TV top gun Claire Balding will be among the BBC’s gay anchors.
Homophobia didn’t exist when the Olympics began and it shouldn’t exist now. For many of the world’s gay athletes, the race for acceptance is the most important event of all.