OPINION: Olympic swimming legend Ian Thorpe can be forgiven for being unsure about publicly announcing his homosexuality if the recent slurs from a fellow Australian broadcaster are an example of how these issues are treated by the sporting fraternity.
After years of rumour and public denials, the 31-year-old five-time gold medallist came out of the closet in an interview with British talkshow host Michael Parkinson at the weekend.
Unfortunately, his brave announcement happened on the same weekend as Australian Rules commentator Brian Taylor called Geelong defender Harry Taylor a "big poofter" during Channel Seven's AFL Game Day.
Taylor later apologised for the tirade and the station condemned his words and reassured viewers he'd undergo counselling and education to ensure such an indiscretion would not happen again.
Though often said in an offhand manner, such statements, coupled with the macho attitude that pervades many sports, make it difficult for gay athletes to feel comfortable revealing their sexuality to team-mates and fans.
During the interview Thorpe candidly spoke of his battles with depression and alcohol and the impact it had on his swimming. He's clearly reached a time in his life where he feels comfortable opening up about his personal choices, though his decision to talk must have involved some soul searching.
One of the things holding Thorpe back from talking about it earlier were his fears Australians would not accept their "champion" being gay, especially as a negative backlash may have affected the sponsorship deals that are so crucial to Olympic athletes.
It must have come as a relief then when the immediate reaction to his revelation from the swimming community and the public was one of acceptance and support.
There are always going to be a few detractors but the majority of the messages spoke of how inspirational he was and how his actions would open up doors for other closeted gay athletes.
But most importantly, regardless of his sexual preference, Thorpe is one of the greatest swimmers of all time, and when the history books are written, his successes in the pool should remain his legacy.
ONE MORE THING:
Congratulations to 23-year-old shoe technician Levana Hampson for taking out the top prize at the Miss Manawatu competition on Friday night. Hampson admitted her initial view on pageants was a negative one but she changed her mind after seeing what was involved. Such pageants aren't everyone's cup of tea but contestants aren't forced to take part and the exposure has led to bigger and brighter things for many women.
- Manawatu Standard
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