Kevin Garside: The pity about Ian Thorpe’s announcement is that a great swimmer should have to declare his sexuality at all

Thorpe is not addressing the developed mind, but age-old prejudices that are still with us

Is Ian Thorpe’s televised confessional to be seen as some kind of step forward? It seems to me this kind of stage-managed coming-out is a measure of how far we still have to travel before there is widespread acceptance of homosexuality in sport, or life for that matter.

To the well-adjusted among us the revelation falls flat. So what? Did you see the game last night, etc?

But Thorpe is not addressing the developed mind, but age-old prejudices that are still with us, rooted in ancient cultural mores and superstitions that won’t be going anywhere as long as people still invest in ideas of heaven and hell.

Michael Parkinson described the interview with Thorpe as one of his best, which kind of makes the point. Well, he had some material here, a celebrity Olympian riven with complexity, who at the height of his fame was one of the world’s most recognisable athletes.

There has always been a tension at the heart of the Thorpe story linked to his sexual orientation. His subsequent bouts of depression were often linked to the pressure of concealment, a dangerous conflation since it suggests that were Thorpe not enveloped by anxiety relating to his sexual preferences he would have enjoyed sound mental health.

This is a further tax on homosexuals, as if orientation were an affliction. Is the gay community not exposed to the same pressures that impinge on more conventional lives? It also shifts the emphasis, in a sense diminishing the importance of mental health issues. Depression is indiscriminate, it does not care about the sleeping arrangements of Tom, Dick or Harry.

Clearly it cannot have been easy having to deny an essential truth about his nature, but it does the gay community and victims of mental health issues no favours to connect the two absolutely. The chances are Thorpe might have been found sitting disoriented in a stranger’s car in Sydney earlier this year irrespective of personal circumstances.

It is a pity that Thorpe has to declare his hand at all. There is enough material in Thorpe’s magnificent contribution to swimming and the Olympic ideal for Parkinson to probe. After Cathy Freeman, Thorpe was the story of the Sydney Games, not only fulfilling the requirements of Australian excellence in the pool, but expressing something of the God-like quality exhibited by the greatest Olympians, and at just 17 years old.

A total of nine Olympic medals, five of them gold, across two Olympiads, 11 world titles and 22 world records is some career imprint to leave behind. But that is as nothing compared to the confirmation that Thorpe sleeps with men.

Jason Collins, the American basketballer who went public with his gay orientation last year, was among the first to tweet acceptance: “Cheers. Your story will help inspire many. Wishing you happiness and know that millions of us support and love you.” Collins added the standard “pride” and “LBGT” hashtags that bind the community.

Others expressed the hope that young sportsmen starting out in their careers will not have to wait until they are 31 to declare their hand. That there needs to be a declaration at all demonstrates the glacial pace at which real change is happening.

Tom Daley is an obvious example of a young athlete confident enough to come out and get on with his life. Most do not have that same sense of security and choose to remain hidden behind conventional appearances.

It will be interesting to see what freedoms and peace the revelation affords Thorpe now. I can’t imagine the confession will have endeared him to the “moral majority” from which he has spent his adult life running. His position has changed, not theirs. It will, one assumes, allow him to be more at peace with himself, but again, this is not to say that the depression for which he has been treated will abate.

Scepticism about the impact on youngsters wrestling with the same dilemma is still the dominant emotion evinced by Thorpe’s declaration.

This is not about sport, but life. Sport is often portrayed as a tool for forcing through change. It was never that. For real change to happen there has to be a readiness. Sport might be a vehicle for raising awareness but it is not the fundamental mover and shaker many would have us believe.

Collins remains the only openly gay athlete in the major professional codes in American sport, one gay man in all of basketball, baseball, gridiron and hockey, not to mention golf, tennis, athletics, and so on. Sadly that is a silence that drowns out any applause greeting Thorpe’s belated announcement.

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £38,000

£16000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to continued expansion, an ...

Ashdown Group: Senior .Net Developer - Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey

£65000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A long-established, tech...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Software Development Project Manager - Kingston Upon Thames

£55000 - £60000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Experienced Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders