Q: So what’s all the fuss about Tom Daley, the 2012 Olympic bronze medallist?
A: He’s recently announced via a tweeted video that he’s gay.
Q: I thought we already knew that.
A: Well, there have been rumours circulating for a while and many people have, I think, assumed it. But Daley reckons the rumours have turned nasty, so he thought he’d go on record, so to speak.
Q: Will it hurt him?
A: Not at all. His fans are not going to desert him. The advertisers who use him to endorse their products won’t drop him. And itv will appreciate the publicity bonus for the new series of Splash!
Q: So again, why the fuss?
A: Because there is still a degree of risk involved when an athlete, or, for that matter, actor, rock singer, politician or any person in the public eye comes out. They can’t be 100 per cent sure there is going to be approval. For instance, Britain’s first sex-change parliamentarian, the UKIP MEP Nikki Sinclaire has told how she was born a boy but had gender reassignment surgery on the NHS 18 years ago. This was big news and, let’s faces it, with some justification: it was unusual. But Sinclaire has not been on the end of a sharp backlash, has she?
Q: So you think the days of bigotry and homophobia are gone?
A: I didn’t say that. Enlightenment hasn’t spread to all parts of the world. In Qatar, where they are intending to play a football World Cup, homosexuality is still a punishable offence. In Russia, where there is going to be a winter Olympics, there are laws against which people have been protesting recently. And there are many other parts of the world mired in old-fashioned prejudices. I guess you have to believe that sport can be a force for good and work to change the mentality in such parts of the world.
Q: Football is the most popular sport in Britain and, indeed, the world. Yet, to my knowledge there is only one openly gay player and he’s playing in California in a league that doesn’t really have much impact. Right?
A: Yes, Robbie Rogers plays in Major League Soccer. Previously, he’d played for Leeds United. Now if he had chosen to come out while at Leeds, it would have been interesting to discover what the reaction would’ve been. My guess is that it would have encouraged some acerbic banter from opposing fans, but nothing too malicious. I’ve done research on this subject and over 90 per cent of football fans oppose homophobia and want to get rid of this reputation they have for being homophobes. The only way they can prove this is by not responding to a gay player in the way many people expect.
Q: You have to be kidding. You’re not seriously suggesting that a player in the Premier League or Championship could declare himself to be gay and not get what football fans call “stick,” are you?
A: Stick is typically bantering. OK it can be a bit caustic at times, but it is generally good-humoured and often quite witty. Fans visiting Brighton often chant, “Does your boyfriend know you’re here?” or, “You’re standing up ‘cause you can’t sit down!” I don’t think these are malicious. And frankly I don’t think gay people are offended by this kind of ribaldry.
Q: One more question: would advertisers run a mile?
A: Quite the opposite: imagine the brand value of “the Premier League’s first gay player.” I would think any gay player who comes out as gay would have great marketing potential. Anyway we’ll find out soon. I predict a gay footballer in Britain will come out over the next couple of years. @elliscashmore