The last time I watched the worlds of international sport and gay rights collide was July 2006. Some old chums and I had chosen Soho’s Dutch drinking house De Hems to watch England drop out of the World Cup. Just down the road, half a million people marched for Europride. My father, separated from our group, was last seen being sashayed off down the street by a gentleman who may or may not have been a member of the Royal Navy and appeared to have misplaced half his uniform.
Of course such scenes are unlikely to be recreated any time soon in Red Square, Winter Olympics or not. Few who watch tomorrow night’s Channel 4 Dispatches on violent homophobia in Russia will fail to be shocked. The president Vladimir Putin has also, of course, conflated being gay with paedophilia, urging gay visitors: “Just leave the children alone… We have a ban on the propaganda of homosexuality and paedophilia.”
The reality in Russia is more nuanced than these extremes: the law has not yet been heavily enforced and there is no mass homophobic uprising. In Club Mayak, one of Sochi’s two gay clubs, “a big-breasted drag queen is busy learning the tunes of Tina Turner and Shirley Bassey to better suit international tastes,” the Financial Times reports. The US has the right idea, sending Billie Jean King in its delegation. Now that everyone is going, let Sochi be the gay games, athletes showing solidarity on the podium, ambassadors for tolerance and reason in the face of ignorance and denial.
We begin our sporting coverage today: an interview with GB’s gold hope Lizzy Yarnold. Six years ago she hadn’t heard of the skeleton - hurling yourself downhill on a teatray headfirst at 85mph. Now she’s world no 1.