Australian Olympic swimming legend Ian Thorpe says sport can still do more in the drive towards equality.
- Ian Thorpe said sport could play a “significant role” in helping inclusivity
- Thorpe said athletes who come out could help those in the community who were struggling to do so
- He is one of 45 Rainbow Champions for WorldPride in Sydney
Speaking to ABC Summer Grandstand, Thorpe said sport had made great strides forward in terms of inclusivity for the LGBTQI+ community in recent years.
However, the 40-year-old urged sporting bodies to create more awareness about that inclusivity in the wider community.
“At the Olympic Games that just passed, there were more ‘out’ athletes than there had been at every Olympic Games leading up to that one. So that’s where we are at an Olympic level,” Thorpe, hero of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, told ABC Sport.
“We can still go further, sport can play a significant role in just understanding for young people.
“It’s also a responsibility that I think that we have within sport, is that we’re not just teaching people about being physically well, it’s also teaching people about, and understanding about, how we interact with each other as part of a society.
“Sport teaches us so many skills — and they’re not just performance-driven.”
Thorpe, who came out in 2014 after his retirement from competitive swimming, said it was important for those athletes who have come out as gay to be visible in their sports and offer an example to those people in the community who may be struggling to come out to friends and family.
“You have to see it if you wanna be it, it comes down to that,” Thorpe said.
“And one of the important things of actually being out is that you set an example that may make it easier for someone who may be going through more difficult circumstances than what you are to actually come out.
“I don’t know what every individual case is and what they’re going through in their journey to finding themselves and their authentic selves.
“People ask me for advice when it comes to ‘how do you come out?’
“I get messages all the time about it and I actually don’t know for each individual, but what I would say is, you don’t have to come out to your parents first, you could come out to some trusted friends, have a few people that are supporting you first and know that your whole world isn’t about to change, that people still care about you.
“And then, when you come out, if you want to come out to your parents, you also need to consider whether it might be a problem with them.
“Maybe you might want to organise to stay at a mate’s place that night. Because still some people are rejected by their families, unfortunately, but there’s less and less of that happening now.
“But with it, knowing that there’s an entire family that you’ll be introduced to, which becomes your gay family, that will support you. And they know what you’ve been through in trying to find your own identity, and they will support you.”
Thorpe is one of 45 rainbow ambassadors for the WorldPride festival, currently taking place in Sydney.
“I believe it’s the biggest event Sydney’s hosted since the Olympic Games,” Thorpe said.
“I was invited to be an ambassador and it’s to recognise where Mardi Gras really started.
“We’re from a very diverse background of people who have contributed to the LGBTIQ+ community in each of our unique ways.
“It means I just get to be myself, which is kinda an important part of being part of the gay community, to be yourself and be comfortable doing that.”