The upcoming Tokyo Olympics will feature the highest number of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) athletes to ever compete at an Olympic Games.
According to research by site aggregator onlinegambling.ca, at least 162 out of the approximately 11,100 competitors in Tokyo identify as LGBT. This is significantly more than have ever participated in the past, with only 229 LGBT athletes known to have competed at the Olympics between 1928 and 2018.
The record high LGBT involvement at this year’s Games has put a spotlight on the domestic policies of host nation Japan, which does not allow gay marriage and has no national anti-discrimination laws for sexual orientation. No openly LGBT athlete has ever competed for Japan at the Olympics, either, and none have been named to the team in Tokyo.
An anti-discrimination law was floated in Japan’s parliament this year but ultimately failed to pass, much to the chagrin of LGBT rights activists. “The Japanese government’s failure to pass a national nondiscrimination law to protect [LGBT] people before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics was a lost opportunity to advance the rights of everyone in Japan”, a coalition of advocacy groups led by Human Rights Watch said in a statement last week.
Olympic organizers have nonetheless made consistent efforts to support LGBT athletes, who are protected under the Olympic Charter from discrimination at the Games. The Tokyo 2020 organizing committee opened a “Pride House”, an LGBT information and hospitality center in downtown Tokyo, and the IOC relaxed enforcement of its political expression rules to allow athletes to wear symbols in support of the community. German field hockey captain Nike Lorenz was among the first to take advantage of this, getting IOC approval yesterday to wear a rainbow armband and socks during games.
Besides unprecedented numbers, another notable milestone for LGBT athletes at Tokyo is the participation of Canadian footballer Quinn and New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard. They are the first transgender people ever to take part in the Olympics. The decision to let Hubbard compete in women’s events has sparked controversy, however, due to what some believe are unfair biological advantages she has gained by transitioning at the late age of 34. Debate has raged in recent months among athletes and officials over whether having biological males compete in women’s sports violates sporting integrity principles.
In a recent press conference, IOC President Thomas Bach maintained that Hubbard is eligible to compete under the current rules, while also leaving the door open to further discussions surrounding transgender athletes. Bach told reporters that: “The IOC is in an inquiry phase with all different stakeholders to review these rules and finally to come up with some guidelines which cannot be rules, because this is a question where there is no one-size-fits-all solution. It differs from sport to sport.”
LGBT athletes have left their mark on the Olympic Games on numerous occasions throughout history. Dutch speed skater Ireen Wüst is the most successful LGBT Olympian of all time with 11 medals, followed by Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe with 9, and former East German gymnast Karin Büttner-Janz with 7. The first recorded LGBT Olympian ever was German runner Otto Peltzer in 1928, while American equestrian Robert Dover was the first to compete openly in 1988.
Homepage photo: IOC
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