Ian Thorpe: being asked about sexuality too early delayed my coming out

Ian Thorpe

The Olympic champion Ian Thorpe has said he would have come out earlier if he’d had more time to become comfortable with his sexuality.

Thorpe made the comment while appearing with a panel of gay Australian sports stars on Sunday at Sydney’s Mardi Gras film festival. The panel included the diver Matthew Mitcham, footballer Sally Shipard, swimmer Daniel Kowalski, basketballer Shelley Gorman-Sandie and rugby league player Casey Conway.

The panel discussed being elite gay athletes and the impact their sexuality has had on their careers and personal lives at a screening of documentary Out to Win, which deals with LGBTI participation in elite sport.

Thorpe said he was first asked about his sexuality when he was just 15.

“If I had a little bit more time when I was younger I would have come out, because I would have been comfortable with that,” Thorpe said. “And that’s why I think, we’re all making the same point, around why we don’t push people to come out.

“For me, when I did come out, it was amazing to have such a kind of warm embrace from people.”

Thorpe came out as gay in July 2014 in an interview with Michael Parkinson, years after winning a total of five Olympic gold medals in 2000 and 2004.

Mitcham, who was out at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in which he won a gold medal, spoke about the importance of gay sports stars coming out to send a positive message to aspiring young athletes.

“And so when more LGBTI athletes come out and they do start getting those big endorsements and they do start getting their faces on Kellogg’s boxes and stuff like that, that’s when younger kids are going to go oh, sexuality is not going to be a barrier to me being successful,” Mitcham said.

Kowalksi said when he was competing he didn’t realise he was gay.

“The worst question I hated was, ‘How many girls did he sleep with in the Olympic village?’, and my answer was always none – and that should have been a clear sign that I was probably gay,” he said.

Speaking before the event, the festival’s director, Paul Struthers, said: “We are thrilled to host so many Australian sporting legends at our screening and highlight one of our key themes this year, which is a focus on LGBTIQ and equality in sport.”

The screening was presented by the LGBTI health organisation Acon and its social inclusion initiative, Pride in Diversity. Next month Acon will launch a world-first LGBTI Pride in Sport index to measure how inclusive sporting codes are towards LBGTI participants.

The vice-president of Acon and Pride in Sport index co-founder Andrew Purchas said: “Many of Australia’s sporting organisations are recognising positive steps need to be taken to ensure your sexuality, gender identity or intersex status does not impact your ability to play, watch or be involved with sport at any level.

“The Pride in Sport index will provide sporting organisations with the opportunity to annually benchmark their inclusion efforts and promote equality in sporting opportunity.”

The panel followed the announcement that Thorpe will host a new three-part documentary series for the ABC, The Bully Project, featuring children aged 14 to 18.

“More than a quarter of school children in Australia claim to have been bullied on a regular basis, which is unacceptable,” Thorpe said. “I’m passionate about shining a light on this issue.

“I have some personal experience around the issue of bullying so I want to share my insights to help Australian kids.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Paul Karp, for theguardian.com on Monday 29th February 2016 01.10 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010