IAN THORPE AND THE BUSINESS OF SPORT

Slip, Slop, Slap is what Australians do with sun cream (not that I do, being dark).

Flip, Flop, Flap is what Australians are doing now, over Ian Thorpe’s infamous interview with Sir Michael Parkinson.

I’ve heard a number of different points of view over Ian Thorpe recently.

I’ve heard people dribble that “I’d say ‘I’m not straight’ for $400 large” and I think it’s a ridiculous comment to make.

People are saying he should have opened that closest, which contained a few Armani suits, a while ago. It’s not exactly like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is it. If Thorpe had come out of the closest earlier he wouldn’t have gone into some mystical and magical C.S Lewis world. He would have been attacked by the lions and the witches, which include the media and public, which is exactly what is happening now- and I’m not saying people are attacking him in a negative way.

Australia’s greatest Olympic male swimmer made the best decision in not opening up about his sexuality in 2000, from a business and professional point of view, only. I’m not going to comment on if it was the correct thing to do from a personal point of view, as this is a very tough thing, but business wise it made sense. It would have hampered his career. Sport is a business and saying he was gay, would have harmed his sponsorship potential- not just in Australia, but abroad.

If I start with Australia, we are not that liberal or educated as a country, as we think. Minorities are still frowned upon. I’ve seen it first hand with the level of racist remarks I received as an A-grade touch judge in Rugby League. I heard the number of people who would laugh at comments made by drunk ignorant people, about the colour of my skin. I heard kids, as young as 13, call each other ‘p00fters’, as if it was the worst thing they could possibly say. I’m not gay, but when I heard these comments on a sporting field, I would immediately send the child off.

If Thorpe had come out in 2000, it would have taken the focus away from his swimming and given him unwanted attention and extra pressure at events. That is something which can’t be disputed. The media would have asked his competitors stupid questions like, “how does it feel to compete against an openly gay swimmer” and “what’s it like in the change room”. Sport at the local level is hard enough. Sport at the highest level is even tougher and it may have given his competitors a mental edge and made Ian feel inferior.

No-one will ever know if results would have changed, but why risk putting extra pressure on yourself.

If we pretend for a second that Australians and Australian corporations wouldn’t have changed their opinion or business dealings based on someone’s sexuality, let’s turn our attention to other countries. I guarantee most Australians have no idea about the culture and international marketing of other countries and how they view gay men. I’m lucky to have travelled to 43 different countries and I don’t have a clue how gays are received, well apart from Russia, obviously.

Would Japan have made him their poster boy for the 2001 World Swimming Championships, made him an ambassador for the Australian Tourist Commission in Japan or named a drink after him, if he was openly gay? Who knows, but why risk it.

Sport is a business.

I’m not going to touch on Thorpe’s depression, because this is a horrible issue. However, having been around some of Australia’s top sports men and women for the past 14 years, almost every single athlete or coach, at the elite level, suffers some form of depression after their career is finished. It’s just natural. They’ve had the fame, glory, money and now they have to fit into society and live like a normal person.

Who cares if Thorpe was paid $400,000 for his interview. Do you really begrudge him? I know a lot of people do.

Has Thorpe shown guts in coming out once his career is finished? Everyone has their own opinion on this, but what takes real guts is coming out, when your career hasn’t even started. Michael Sam, has recently been drafted by the St Louis Rams, to play in the upcoming NFL season. He’s not a quarterback and will most likely never be as good as Thorpe in his chosen sport, but the amount of attention he has received is absurd. The media were all over it before the draft and who knows how his teammates will react in the locker room. Sam has shown incredible strength and I wish him all the best and hope he isn’t vilified if he ever makes the field.

For some reason, people enjoy drama- especially when it’s not about them. Being a gay athlete shouldn’t be a big deal, but it still is.

I don’t know if Thorpe’s esteemed and former manager Dave Flaskas, advised him at all, but I do believe he made the right decision in staying quiet about his sexuality.

It really has become a case of ‘Out of the Frying Pan and into the Fire’. Ian Thorpe is gay and now everyone is talking about it. I’m fairly sure Tolkien didn’t have Thorpe in mind when he wrote this chapter, in The Hobbit. Thorpe has escaped the Goblins and let’s hope he can continue on his journey.

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