The 2016 Olympic Games is already making waves for being the most LGBT-friendly in its entire history with a record-breaking 43 out-and-proud queer athletes competing this year. From Brazilian Judo gold medallist Rafaela Silva to multiple-medal-winning diver Tom Daley—the nationalities of these LGBTQ athletes are pretty diverse, and that’s tremendously significant. For decades upon decades, LGBTQ athletes have had to remain in the closet, fearing that making their sexuality public would adversely affect careers (which for some athletes, has actually happened). Being out meant losing sponsors, contracts, and often, the support of teammates as well. Hence, to have so much queer visibility at a sporting event that is as internationally revered as the Olympic Games means to not only challenge the heteronormativity associated with sport, but to also be a huge source of inspiration for other aspiring LGBTQ athletes.
However, while the Olympics itself has been extremely welcoming towards its LGBTQ competitors, those who have been covering, telecasting, or even talking about the event have ended up being horrifyingly problematic, on more than one occasion. Some of the mistakes might have been unintentional, but many also reek of homophobia and bigotry. So, here’s our round-up of all the ways in which people went wrong when talking about queer athletes at the Olympics, and how we can avoid making similar mistakes:
Olympic broadcasts love to talk about the romantic lives of athletes. When a (straight) athlete’s wife, or husband, or partner, is in the audience during their event, the camera almost always pans on them, and the commentators even interview these partners either before or after the event. But, when British diver Tom Daley was competing in the men’s synchronized diving event (in which he earned the bronze), the network broadcasters failed to even mention that his fiancée, Oscar winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black was in the audience to cheer Daley on. Due to their celebrity status, Black and Daley’s relationship has been a highly public one (so much that Out Magazine even did an entire profile on them), so to not even acknowledge Daley’s sexuality and relationship, while the other (straight) competitors’ partners were shown, reeks of latent homophobia.
And this is something that happens over and over—and when being called out on it, telecasters and audiences alike respond with the argument that ‘Olympics is about sport, not sexuality’. In fact, one tweet even went on to say that the Olympics was too “pure” for such politics:
@thinkprogress Olympics about athletics only. Remember that. Politics should be absent from this intended pure sport
— trampslikeus2 (@trampslikeus2) August 6, 2016
But it matters. Their queerness is important, and to ignore it is to reinforce the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell policy’, which in the long run, does more harm than good.
When you can’t ignore an athlete’s same-sex partner, impose heteronormativity on them—that seems to be the policy these Olympics telecasters have going. When Brazilian beach volleyball player Larissa Franca rushed to hug and kiss her wife Lillianne after winning a medal, this is what announcer Chris Marlowe had to say: “She gives a hug to Lili. That is her husband.”
While Marlowe apologized later, his statement remains a commonly reiterated mistake. Often, we try to slot queer relationships into straight terms by asking ‘who’s the man in the relationship, and who’s the woman?’—not realizing that stable relationships can thrive without the imposition of such binaries. So, in talking about the same-sex relationships of Olympic athletes, let’s not continue to make the same mistake and impose such heterosexual constructs.
In an article published on popular news portal, The Daily Beast, British reporter Nico Hines had attempted to provide readers with an “inside look” into the hookup culture inside Rio’s Olympic village, where many athletes live during the Games. He documented his use of various dating apps and talked about how he had “matched” with multiple athletes on Grindr, who still hadn’t publicly come out. Though the names of athletes weren’t mentioned, certain other details were, which pointed to their identities—essentially outing them. Recieving immense backlash, The Beast has now taken down the article, apologizing for how the article went against the website’s values, but the fact remains that, once made public, the identities of these people are still out there.
Here’s the thing—outing someone without their explicit consent is never okay, and especially not when you are doing it in the name of journalism. Various people have different reasons for not wanting to make their sexuality public—and for athletes (and other public figures), it’s even more difficult because being out could affect their careers. It’s okay to want to know more about the personal lives of your favourite athletes, but to jeopardize their privacy and consent like this is a grave violation.
During a the match between tennis players Johanna Konta and Svetlana Kuznetsova, a ‘kiss cam’ feature came on in a break, to which BBC commentator Paul Hand had a disturbingly homophobic statement to make. A ‘kiss cam’ is basically a camera which zeroes in on couples in the audience and has them kiss in public. But Hand said: “Let’s hope they don’t go on to two blokes sat next to each other.”
Which basically implies that straight couples kissing is absolutely legitimate, but when two men kiss, it isn’t.
His homophobia wasn’t directed towards the athletes, yes, but even encouraging this sort of a casually homophobic remark on something with as much viewership as an Olympic broadcast is absolutely ridiculous. If you celebrate LGBTQ athletes, but can’t respect queer audiences, that’s not being inclusive.
The Olympics this year is a huge milestone for LGBTQ inclusivity—starting from Trans model Lea T leading the Olympic opening ceremony, to the lesbian Olympic volunteer who proposed to her girlfriend during a live broadcast. Hence, it is important that we celebrate and talk about it in the right ways, and try to avoid making these kinds of mistakes (whether intentionally or not). Let’s respect (and cheer for) all the openly queer athletes who are making history by not just excelling in their respective sporting events, but by also challenging ages worth of stigma and discrimination.