As the American academic Maylon Hanold demonstrates in her daring contribution to Endurance Running, a set of essays recently reviewed on idrottsforum.org, the discrimination of gay athletes is certainly not a thing of the past. Primitive anti-gay sentiment still haunts the sporting scene.
Hanold dissects the subculture of ultrarunning; I tackle the biggest and baddest anti-gay event in the world of sport. The University of Seattle scholar’s insight surely applies to the Olympic extravaganza, including the 2016 Copacabana edition which ended on an appropriately rainy Sunday night.
‘Open support for (…) gay marriage frequently emerged in conversations on the trail,’ Hanold concedes. Tellingly, however, she never encountered ‘openly gay ultrarunners’ during her research trips along American escarpments.
On the face of it, the International Olympic Committee too supports gay athletes and their human rights. The Olympic Charter duly rebukes discrimination of any kind, ‘such as race, colour, sex, sexual orientation.’ But the reality is something else entirely, just as the beach volley babes on Copacabana blot out the parade of poor Brazilians. Gay athletes, Hanold argues, are not accepted beyond ‘discursive constructions.’
How many homosexual Olympians do we actually know of? Two or three? Why not two hundred? Because they remain a repressed group not only in the ultrarunning community. As Hanold so aptly indicates, the ‘male, white, heterosexual’ body constitutes the norm, and the normative or hegemonic body ‘sustains the invisibility and silencing’ of other bodies.
Alas, Hanold’s delightfully militant text provides no solutions; she doesn’t even propose piecemeal improvements. Where to start? What to do next? One thing’s for sure: lip service won’t do any more.
In the next games, gay Olympians should be obliged to put on a rainbow-colored cap, headband or wristband. A conspicuous rainbow tattoo would also be acceptable. Other means for improved visibility could easily be imagined, means that would expose the heteronormative games as a site for ‘empowerment, contradiction and marginalization.’
Ultimately, gay athletes and their allies might wish to consider truly radical measures. Should straight athletes be excluded from the Olympics? The merging of Olympic and Gay games into a gigantic show of sportive tolerance would be a sight to behold, though, admittedly, astute academics would immediately launch a search for the hidden agenda.