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Tom Daley explains change of mind over banning anti-LGBTQ countries from international sporting events

“If I were to say ban those countries, it puts a target on the back of those LGBT people… it then becomes further oppression,” Tom Daley says.

By Emily Maskell

Words: Emily Maskell; pictures: BBC

Tom Daley has explained changing his mind when it comes to banning countries where homosexuality was illegal from the Commonwealth Games.

The Olympic-gold-winning 28-year-old diver recently featured in the BBC documentary Illegal To Be Me which saw him travel the Commonwealth and speak to activists and athletes about the state of LGBTQ+ rights in their home countries.

Being exposed to different perspectives and learning about British colonialism led him to re-think his position on the topic of banning countries altogether from competing. 

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“I went in with the thought of banning all countries with anti-LGBT laws from hosting the competition, I was taking quite a hard stance on it,” Daley told Channel 4

“It was going around the Commonwealth and in Pakistan where the athletes I spoke to said it wouldn’t make a difference,” he added.

Accepting the Sport Award at the Virgin Atlantic Attitude Awards 2021, Tom announced he was making it his mission to ensure that countries that criminalise homosexuality can’t compete in and host big sporting events in the future.

In his interview with Channel 4, Daley notes it was in conversations with activists and athletes that he learned about the harm his original stance could cause: “They said if I were to say ban those countries, it puts a target on the back of those LGBT people… it then becomes further oppression.”

In a separate interview with The Guardian, the athlete describes changing his policy from an outright ban to a manifesto with a pro-LGBT ethos that host countries have to agree to. 

“Rather than saying to certain countries you can’t host it, it’s saying that if you want to host it, you have to change. Instead of banning countries, countries will rule themselves out by accepting they are not appropriate hosts because they do not fit the values of the event,” he told the paper.

The athlete went on to explain to Channel 4 that his journey to discover “where this homophobia came from” took him into the history of British colonialism.

“Seeing all of these colonial laws that have remained in place, there might have been homophobia in these countries beforehand with religious beliefs as well but it was never put into the penal code,” Daley explains. 

“It’s something that need to be spoken about and taught. It needs to be at the forefront of our education system. I did not learn the full history of colonialism at school.”

Daley was also asked about the topic of transgender athletes, a subject he’s been outspoken about, to which he said: “sport should be a place of inclusion.”

He continued: “It’s about taking the time to really work out the best way to [include transgender athletes], rather than just banning and forgetting about the trans community completely.”

The gold medallist has previously iterated how “furious” he was at a decision by swimming’s world governing body, FINA, to ban trans athletes at elite competitions. 

Following Illegal To Be Me airing last week, Tom was hailed as a “national treasure” for highlighting continuing homophobia in sport. 

The Attitude September/October issue is out now.

The Attitude September/October issue is out now.