Team Ireland Talk Gay Games And Issues Facing LGBT+ Athletes

Team Ireland killed it at the Gay Games in Paris this year. GCN spoke to four of the competitors about their experience, LGBT+ people in sports and why it's important the community gets involved.

team Ireland at the 2018 Gay Games in Paris, holding the Irish flag during the opening ceremony.

Following their triumph at the Gay Games in Paris earlier this year, Team Ireland reunited in the George to celebrate their victory. They spoke to GCN about their experiences at the games and LGBT+ people in sport.

Team Ireland take the Gay Games in Paris

Athletes competing at the Gay Games pose with the Taoiseach and several ministers
Team Ireland athletes meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar ahead of the 2018 Gay Games in Paris.

GCN spoke to four Irish athletes who competed at this year’s Gay Games.

Owen Fletcher, who competed in the triathlon and the 5K race, told us about his experience:

“It was one of the most positive experiences of my life. I’ve been competing in 5K, 10K races and half marathons for the past few years outside of the LGBT+ community, just as an interest and hobby, and to keep fit. I have never done anything specifically geared toward LGBT+ people.

“I made life-long friends. I entered two events, and in both, I got a gold medal. I was proud to represent my country as an LGBT+ person and as an Irish person.

“We’re going to the EuroGames in Rome in 2019, and hopefully Hong Kong in 2020. Hopefully, we will see a lot of young gay people seeing our achievements in Paris and coming along as well.”

President Higgins shakes the hand one of the athletes from Team Ireland, the others waiting in turn
Team Ireland meeting with President Michael D Higgins.

Brian Sweeney, who plays for the gay football team the Dublin Devils told us about their experiences up against the other teams:

“They thought we were going to be a walk-over, but we worked well as a team and finished fourth. In our third-place match, we had a lot of different injuries so it didn’t quite go our way, but if we rematched, we could take them.

“We received so much support from each other. In our third-place match, the Cork Rebels came to support us.” Brian added.

Dublin Devils Football Club
Members of Dublin Devils Football Club

Reg Curtis, who competed in badminton and the 5k race also told us about her success:

“I competed in the singles and the doubles and got to the quarterfinals in both! It was my first time competing this year. It was brilliant, I was elated.”

Roland Temple, who competed in open water swimming, said, “Paris was amazing! I found out about the games a year ago. I thought I’d be there by myself. I found Team Ireland, emailed them and discovered they were looking for volunteers, so I got involved. It was incredible.”

Encouraging LGBT+ people to take part in sports

Reg spoke about the importance of sport for LGBT+ people:

“It’s about getting out and getting fit, but also the social aspect. If you’re part of a team, meeting up and being part of something, it’s liberating.”

Brian talked about his experience as a gay man playing football:

“I grew up in a small town in Maine, and there was some conflict around whether or not gay people play sports.

“When I moved to Ireland, I started playing with the Dublin Devils, and it was freeing being myself and showing that I can play football just as well, if not better than a lot of the straight guys.

“I hope it shows people that you can be gay and play sports. I’m just as, if not more competitive, than everyone else.”

Team Ireland football squad at the Gay games in Paris, in front of the goal.

Roland said, “We need to make it easier for LGBT+ people to dip the toe in. We have the resources to get people involved in different sports.

“Sports releases endorphins and makes you feel good. Multiply that by 100, when you’re part of a huge team that have all had the same experiences as you.”

Roland Hempell, who competed with Team Ireland at the Gay Games in Paris this year.
Roland Hempel, who competed with Team Ireland at the Gay Games in Paris this year.

Sporting Pride

Aidan Walsh, Chairperson of Team Ireland and Sporting Pride, the new organisation dedicated to encouraging LGBT+ people to get involved in sports, added, “There’s such a low participation rate among the LGBT+ community in sports, but being active is so important for physical and mental well-being.

“Sporting Pride has two objectives: looking after competitions like the Gay Games and the EuroGames, and, more importantly, the health and well-being element. The participation rate of the LGBT+ community in sport is much lower than it is in the general population. Sporting Pride will look at why that is.

“There’s little research on it. Are LGBT+ teenagers not encouraged in schools? Are there issues in local clubs? We’ll work with the national governing bodies, the FAI, the GAA, and the IRFU, and work on making local clubs more inclusive for the LGBT+ community.

Sporting Pride logo
Sporting Pride logo

“Having LGBT+ sporting role models is important. In the UK, there’s Gareth Thomas, for example. In Ireland, there’s David Gough, and the IRFU has been great at promoting LGBT+ inclusion.

“But there is still no out gay Premier League footballer. In international football, there are not any out gay players. Soccer is doing well on the female side but on the male side, there is a lot to be done.”

© 2018 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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