This year, for the first time, openly gay and lesbian athletes in the Olympics have somewhere to hang their hats — Pride House. All six of them.
The International Gay and Lesbian Sports Association, who sponsored the houses in Whistler and Vancouver, hoped it would provide a safe space for the sparse number of out athletes to socialize and relax — and maybe, after the competition is over, for athletes who aren’t yet out to join them.
In this year’s Winter Olympics, among the some 5,000 athletes, there are six out lesbians and no openly gay men (though certainly a few who many suspect are).
The lesbians include Dutch speedskater Ireen Wust (who won gold in the 1,500 meters), her girlfriend and teammate Sanne van Kerkhof, Dutch speedskater Renate Groenewold, Canadian hockey player Sarah Vaillaincourt, Swedish hockey player Erika Holst and Norwegian cross-country skier Vibeke Skofterud.
Though the house may not have attracted hordes of out athletes, it has drawn some VIP visitors: Stephen Colbert of “The Colbert Report” and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson. Colbert reportedly criticized a poster of two male hockey players about to kiss, for using “who” instead of “whom.” The poster reads: “Shocking? For who?” Touché, grammarian.
Amid the calls for athletes to come out, there have been several astute analyses as to why they don’t, beyond homophobia.
The explanation that rings most true is the sheer dedication an Olympic-level athlete must have to be competitive: They just don’t have time to be in a relationship. (Even some hetero athletes have eschewed dating and relationships to focus on their sport.)
One author pointed out that athletes who have trained since a young age may not have even taken the time to sort out their sexual orientation, again, being highly focused on their athletic ability. Which would also support why athletes tend to come out near the end of their careers, or when they are done competing entirely.
Of course homophobia in sports still plays a part in keeping Olympians in the closet. And since corporate sponsorships help an athlete along, they also don’t want to distract from the task at hand: excelling in sports.
Interestingly, one of the out women, when asked about her girlfriend, noted that interviewers didn’t ask the heterosexual athletes about their partners, asserting that it shouldn’t be relevant to her achievements. On the one hand, she’s absolutely right. On the other, society isn’t fully accepting yet, so there is still a need to be out and open.