Simon Denyer

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author. Former bureau chief with The Washington Post and Reuters.

Aug 7, 2021
Published on: Washington Post
1 min read

TOKYO — British diver Tom Daley says he is proud to be able to inspire other people as an openly gay athlete, but he is quick to add that global sports still has a long way to go to achieve acceptance and embrace diversity.

At least 182 openly LGBTQ athletes are competing at the Games, according to outsports.com, and Daley said there had been progress since he first competed at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 at 14.

“Of course it’s come a long way, but there’s still a lot further to go,” he said after winning bronze in Saturday’s individual 10-meter platform men’s final. “I mean, there are 10 countries that are competing at these Olympic Games where being LGBT is punishable by death.”

In 2013, Daley first announced on his YouTube channel that he was in a relationship with a man. He married American screenwriter, film director and producer Dustin Lance Black in 2017, and the pair had a son by a surrogate the following year.

“I feel extremely lucky to be representing Team GB, to be able to stand on the diving board with myself, with a husband and a son, and not worry about any ramifications,” Daley said. “But I know that I’m very fortunate to have that and that there are lots of people that grow up around the world with less fortunate situations.”

The challenges still facing many athletes in talking openly about their sexual orientation was dramatically underlined at these Games after Russian state television used extremely offensive language in questioning LGBTQ athletes’ participation.

In response, the IOC said, “Discrimination has absolutely no place at the Olympic Games,” and told the BBC it had been in touch with its broadcasting partner in Russia to underline that principle.

Daley said he wasn’t aware of those comments, as he was living “in a bubble” while competing at the Games, but he spoke about the need for greater “understanding.”

He said society historically has been “dictated from a straight White male perspective” but needed to embrace different perspectives, whether from the point of view of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation “or whatever it is.”

Daley said he hoped seeing more LGBTQ people in sports and other prominent roles would help people “feel less alone, like they are valued and they can achieve something.”

“When I was growing up, I always knew I was different. And I always heard people … saying bad things,” he said. “And you never feel like you can say anything, and you kind of swallow yourself up, and you feel like you’re never going to be anyone.

“It takes a lot to come out and speak openly. And it can be quite daunting and scary for people, especially in sports, where the fan bases might not be as accepting.”

Daley, who won his first Olympic gold in the men’s 10-meter synchronized platform diving last week, said he was “extremely happy” with his medal haul in Tokyo, especially after an uncharacteristically error-strewn performance had seen him miss out on the individual final in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

“You know, my husband said to me after Rio, obviously I was extremely disappointed, and he said to me that ‘Maybe you weren’t meant to win gold this time because your son was meant to watch you win an Olympic gold medal,’ ” Daley said.

“When you feel so extremely loved and supported at home, and you know that it doesn’t matter how you do in the pool, they’re going to love you regardless, it just takes so much pressure and weight off your shoulders. And they’ve allowed me to fly higher than I ever thought I’d be able to fly.”