#ProudtoPlay: Sport lags behind society on gay rights

And it’s not just the LGBT community who suffer - sports teams do too

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The Independent Online

The past eighteen months has been a very active period in the battle for LGBT equality in sport. From NBA player Jason Collins coming out as the first openly gay player to appear in any of America's major sporting leagues, to a winter Olympics tarnished by association with the host country’s homophobia, and an NFL draft that featured its first gay kiss - there has been an increasing awareness that sport has an important role to play in progressing LGBT rights.

But in many cases, the sporting world still has a long way to go.  I am firmly of the belief that LGBT inclusion in all sport has been behind the example set by society, but, at last, momentum seems to be building.

I want to make it clear that I believe the issue of LGBT inclusion is not about being ‘nice’ to ‘the gays’ but rather about making sure all environments - including the previously hostile area of sport - are welcoming and accessible to everyone.

In a professional sense, elite sport would benefit greatly by taking advantage of this momentum for change. The bottom line in any sport should be ensuring that you have access to every single talented individual who could help the team win, no matter of their sexuality. By creating an environment where everyone is encouraged to be their true selves, sport not only becomes more relevant and relatable to a wider audience - it radically expands its pool of potential future stars.

For the majority of us, including myself now, sport isn’t about winning - except maybe the battle against the bulge. Instead, it’s about the increasingly rare opportunity to just play; to spend time with old friends and make new ones, to challenge old bones to one more game and bask in the camaraderie when that game is done.

In a world filled with stress and worry, this opportunity to play can quite literally be a lifesaver. But for many in the LGBT community, being a part of mainstream sport has not felt like an option. After all, who would want to come home from a tough day and join a team where you could feel marginalised, abused and even unsafe?

I’m proud to support the Proud To Play campaign, and think it is particularly timely. It mirrors the changing attitude towards LGBT equality outside sport, and because of this I hope the campaign will inspire all the various sporting governing bodies, along with everyone who simply loves to play, to make sure that sport can be enjoyed by everyone.

Because with the World Cup on the horizon, this is a pivotal moment for equality in sport.

From mega-events to community sport, whether coaching, watching or participating, a little thought and compassion can create an environment where everyone free to play without compromising who they are.

I hope that the #ProudToPlay initiative will help people start that conversation in their homes, schools and sporting clubs across the country. Every person who joins with the sporting superstars in the #ProudToPlay video by proclaiming their support for inclusiveness is a part of a continuing and much needed, change for the better.