The Last Word: A clear message to Putin and all those blocking equality

Appointing Billie Jean King as US delegate to Sochi will help athletes’ political and personal battle

Robbie Rogers returned to Elland Road yesterday as part of an anti-discrimination initiative. The warmth of his reception was one small step for a gay man, but a potentially giant leap for football, the sport in which he wishes to earn his living.

Rogers’s status as the most prominent footballer to profess his homosexuality invited examination of the culture which prompted him to remain in denial while he played for Leeds United, his hosts. There was no proselytising, merely an acceptance of common courtesy and shared humanity.

Maybe 2014 will be different. Maybe the dressing room’s last taboo will be exposed for its shallowness and irrelevance. Maybe fear will be neutralised and athletes will be free to be themselves. Maybe.

Regression and repression remain a global problem, an aberration logically beyond a reinvented midfield player for LA Galaxy. Homophobic legislation has been passed in India and Uganda this month. The sanctioning of same-sex marriage in Australia has been repealed.

Sport may not be a reliable barometer of social progress, but it has a unique opportunity to harness its irresistible symbolism and latent power. When the US president aligns sport and gay rights, to make a powerful political point to his Russian counterpart, the world is truly in motion.

Barack Obama amplified criticism of Vladimir Putin for passing national laws banning “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” by defying protocol and appointing three gay athletes as key members of the US delegation to February’s Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Billie Jean King, winner of 39 Grand Slam tennis titles, acknowledged her sexuality in 1981. Caitlin Cahow has been openly gay throughout her eight-year career as a world champion ice hockey player. Olympic figure-skating champion Brian Boitano came out on Thursday, immediately after his appointment.

Their presence in Russia will be immeasurably more important than the alternative, the blunt instrument of boycott, because they will set the narrative of the Games. King spoke of her hope that they “will be a watershed moment for the universal acceptance of all people”.

The campaign with which Rogers is associated, Beyond “it”, will seek to distribute an emblematic magnetic green bar designed to be worn by visitors to Sochi. A campaign for sexual orientation to be explicitly listed as a form of discrimination in the Olympic charter has fresh impetus.

The political ramifications must not be allowed to mask the deeply personal nature of the issue. Many gay athletes spend years prevaricating before they acknowledge their sexuality. The original lie mutates into a damning deceit, given additional toxicity by self-loathing.

We are all products of our environment. When sport is perceived to enshrine prejudice and intolerance, it exerts an insidious internal pressure. The prospect of rejection and isolation feels terrifyingly real. Depression strikes.

Nigel Owens, arguably the world’s best rugby referee, came out in 2007. Eleven years earlier, angry, confused and shameful, he attempted suicide at the summit of Bancyddraenen mountain in West Wales, overlooking his home village of Mynyddcerrig. He swallowed a bottle of sleeping tablets before being found by chance.

His deepest fear, of denunciation because he had somehow defiled the macho culture of a sport which he believed defined him, remains unrealised. Mutual misconceptions have been exposed by the warmth of unconditional acceptance.

Gareth Thomas, the former Wales and British Lions captain, experienced a similar sense of liberation when he came out in 2009. To declare an interest, we are collaborating on a book detailing his life and times. It has been a uniquely emotional process.

Truth is something to be embraced rather than shied away from, but its power must be respected. It is significant that no other footballer has even confided an interest in following Rogers’s lead. The game remains sport’s final frontier.

That is why Leeds United yesterday chalked up a home win before a ball was kicked.

 

Tawdry Korea choice by Rodman

This may be the season of Goodwill to all men, but for Dennis Rodman and his grubby retinue of opportunists we must make an exception.

Rodman, a caricature rebel defined by desperate exhibitionism and deepening insignificance, is in North Korea to promote the “Big Bang in Pyongyang”, a basketball match on January 8.

He is accompanied by a film crew and his six-figure sponsor, a bookmaking company whose spokesman admits “we are not in it for world peace.”

Rodman’s new best friend, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, has guaranteed their safety following the recent execution, by machine gun, of the dictator’s uncle Jang Song-thaek.

The former Chicago Bulls player (below) has graciously promised each member of the local scratch team, who will face NBA veterans, two pairs of training shoes.

The temptation is to ignore such a tawdry circus in a pariah state in which two million people have died from starvation over two decades, but Shin Dong-hyuk begs our indulgence.

He survived 23 years in a prison camp, and challenges Rodman thus: “As you have a fun time with the dictator, please try to think about what he and his family have done and continue to do.”

Unlikely, but essential.

 

NO XMAS CHEER

Emmanuel Adebayor is a Christmas cracker joke made flesh: “What did the workshy multi-millionaire footballer say to his team-mates? ‘Show more heart’.” It’s not funny and, in truth, there is little to laugh about at Tottenham these days. The festive spirit is in understandably short supply down at White Hart Lane.

Sport
footballLIVE City face Stoke, while Warnock returns to Palace dugout
Arts and Entertainment
books
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone