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Olympic Legacy: No Change for Gay Athletes

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Long after the last athletes and spectators have left the Olympic Park in September, London 2012's organisers will be obsessing over the much-hyped Olympic Legacy. London won its bid for the Games on an explicit promise of 'greater inclusion' for all communities. Recent research conducted by the University of Cambridge for Stonewall's School Report 2012 reveals something that should seriously worry those responsible for achieving this worthy goal.

The findings, from a survey of over 1,600 lesbian, gay and bisexual young people across Britain, reveal that over two thirds (68%) of gay young people don't like team sports. That's hardly surprising when you consider that among the 55% of gay pupils who say they're homophobically bullied, three in ten say it happens in changing rooms and one in four say it happens during sport.

In light of these findings, it's unsurprising that gay people are almost invisible in professional athletics (in Team GB there are just two openly gay athletes). But remarkably, London 2012 has done little of value to make sure gay people share that Olympic Legacy of 'greater inclusion'.

Thankfully, some of Britain's leading sporting bodies are working hard to overcome homophobia and attract more gay people. As a keen rugby player I'm especially proud to see my sport grappling with this issue. The Rugby Football Union and Rugby Football League are both committed to real action to tackle homophobia, and both offered high-profile support to Manchester's successful bid to host this year's Bingham Cup, the world championships for gay rugby teams.

Other sports are also making progress. The England and Wales Cricket Board and the Lawn Tennis Association are working hard to see more gay people pick up bats and racquets. And the FA and its Welsh and Scottish counterparts are working with Stonewall to make sure football faces up to its chronic problem with homophobia.

Unfortunately, our domestic sporting bodies' international counterparts seem to be less interested in supporting gay people. For example, although the International Rugby Board (IRB) and FIFA, football's governing body, outlaw homophobia in their codes of conduct for players and officials, neither body has a strong record on publicly supporting gay people. The IRB was virtually silent about the Bingham Cup, by far the largest rugby union tournament in the world this year. And FIFA sees no problem with hosting World Cup tournaments in countries like Qatar and Russia, which publicly humiliate and persecute gay people.

London 2012, which defers to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), has an even poorer example to follow. The Olympic Charter makes no specific reference at all to protecting lesbian, gay or bisexual athletes from discrimination. When questioned, officials say the Charter promises protection from all forms of discrimination - but the IOC, which rightly challenged apartheid for many years, has never challenged homophobia in any National Olympic Association's home country.

It's possible the IOC is silent because 80 of those countries routinely imprison, torture or execute gay people. And maybe that explains London 2012's failure to make any serious effort to increase sporting participation among gay people. Maybe token gestures, like signing charters and issuing rainbow pin-badges, are deemed a safer choice than actively attracting gay athletes and challenging homophobia wherever it happens. If so, it's hard to see how this year's Olympics can live up to the promise of 'greater inclusion' - at least for Britain's 3.7 million gay people.

Many British sporting bodies are working hard to attract talented young athletes into amateur and professional sport, regardless of their sexual orientation. London 2012 should have followed their example. Gay taxpayers are entitled to ask what we've gained by contributing more than half a billion pounds to the Games' £9.3 billion budget. Sadly, for many of us the Olympic Legacy looks a lot like the status quo.

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