Navratilova urges IOC to show support for gay athletes

Last Updated: Wed, Dec 11, 2013 12:03 hrs

Tennis legend Martina Navratilova and former NBA player Jason Collins have urged world sports bodies like the International Olympic Committee to show more support for homosexual athletes.

"The IOC needs to stand up better for their athletes quite frankly," Navratilova told reporters here yesterday. "It's (also) what happens after, and it's not just one country, it's many countries."

The two sporting icons added their voices to the UN's campaign to counter homophobic violence and discrimination.

"Nobody is talking about, for example, Qatar, where the World Cup is going to be, homosexual activity is punishable by a jail term there," the openly gay former tennis star said, referring to the 2022 FIFA World Cup of soccer.

Responding to questions about the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia, where some have criticised authorities for an aggressive stance towards sexual minorities, Collins said the focus should be on the local lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.

"Once the games leave, all those people are still going to be there oppressed," Collins said.

"That's something that isn't right. People should be able to live their lives openly, and not be afraid that if they say or do the wrong thing, just by holding someone's hand in public that they can go to jail."

Navratilova said gays and lesbians "seem to be the last group of people that it's still ok to pick on for whatever reason in whatever way", adding that the abuse ranges from being bullied in school to being denied basic rights, incarcerated or sentenced for acts punishable by death in certain countries.

"Sport and politics are inextricably combined. They go hand in hand," she said urging athletes who are also members of the LGBT community to be more visible.

"Get in their face. Once you're visible, you make it personal."

The dominant tennis player of her time, who came out as a lesbian in 1981, Navratilova attended a special event for Human Rights Day 'Sport comes out against homophobia'.

Collins became the first active male professional athlete in a major North American team sport to come out publicly as gay when he made his announcement in May this year.

In a video message, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the global body denounces all attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people.

"We oppose all arrests, imprisonments and discrimination they suffer. And we recommit ourselves to building a world of freedom and equality for all," Ban said.

"Sports cut across borders and continents. Games unite people across cultural divides. Professional athletes are heroes to their fans. And when they speak out against prejudice, they are heroes to the United Nations," he added.

More than 76 countries still criminalise consensual adult same-sex relationships, while in many more countries discrimination against LGBT people is widespread, including in the workplace and in the education and health sectors, according to UN figures.

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