By Anna Noble
Two tears ran down Tom Daley’s face as his synchro diving partner, Matty Lee, presented him with a gold Olympic-medal and God Save the Queen filled the arena. A moment which is 20 years and four Olympics in the making.
A redemption story for Daley, after his well-publicised disappointment, failing to qualify for the individual final in Rio 2016. Daley and Lee, the latter who was making his Olympic debut, were spectacular to watch. Each dive was immaculate and saw them fend off the seemingly unbeatable Chinese divers, who had made a rare mistake, allowing the British pair to get out ahead. They won by just 1.23 points.
Yet, it was perhaps what Daley chose to do in the moments immediately following him being presented with the gold medal that spoke the loudest. He sat at the press conference and proudly stated “I am proud to say I am a gay man and an Olympic Champion.”
A significant statement made more poignant when you are reminded that he was sat between athletes from Russia and China, two of over 70 countries where homosexuality is still illegal.
When asked about his son by a Chinese publication he responded, “It’s been the most amazing, life-changing journey for me and I can’t wait to go and see them, my husband and my son.” Daley, expressing his joy in having a family, with a dynamic which would be illegal in the home nations of his closest competitors, again spoke loudly to the absurdity of homosexuality still being illegal in so many countries.
It is for this reason that the significance of Tom Daley winning gold in the Olympics, as an openly gay athlete, should not be downplayed.
Tom Daley made history by announcing he was in a same sex relationship in 2013, at the time becoming one of the most high-profile British athletes to be openly LGBTQ+. The year before in the London 2012 games, there were just 23 out of over 11,000 openly LGBTQ+ athletes, in Tokyo there are 168 openly LGBTQ+ athletes.
Progress is happening in sport and more widely, yet the wider risks faced by the LGBTQ+ community cannot be ignored. Ten of the nation’s taking part in the Tokyo Olympics still prescribe the death penalty for homosexuality. Dozens more criminalise it. Japan itself has been criticised recently for failing to pass adequate protections criteria for the LGBTQ+ community.
LGBTQ+ people are still being killed, arrested, or discriminated against, across the world for who they are and who they love. Basic human rights are still being denied across the world. Daley’s international high profile, gained through his diving, his story and his media work, ensured that his words, speaking to the LGBTQ+ community, were broadcast and heard around the world. He said, “I hope that any young LGBT person out there can see that no matter how alone you feel right now, you are not alone, you can achieve anything and there is a whole lot of your chosen family out here, ready to support you.”
For Daley, using his platform and achievements is not new. He followed his Commonwealth Gold in Australia 2018, by highlighting that in most Commonwealth countries, he would be a criminal for being in a same sex relationship and calling for change.
Daley has made history and headlines throughout his career. However, his advocation for LGBTQ+ rights, using platforms at sporting events will form a significant part of his legacy, outside his sporting successes.
Image Credit: Megan Trace via Flickr