University of Queensland research about the growing acceptance of homosexuals in sport has been honoured by the International Society of Olympic Historians (ISOH).
The society has awarded UQ Centre of Olympic Studies Director Dr Ian Jobling and former exchange student Matthew Baniak for their Homosexuality and the Olympic Movement publication.
“The paper was written in the shadows of Russian President Vladimir Putin announcing sanctions regarding homosexuality at the time of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games,” Dr Jobling said.
“We noted in the study that only two competing Olympic athletes were openly gay at the time of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, but that number had risen to 23 by the 2012 London games.
“To even be suspected of being gay in the early days of the Olympics was quite dangerous.
“In the time of Nazi rule, German runner Otto Peltzer was sent away and tortured after being identified as homosexual.”
Ahead of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, Dr Jobling and University of Saskatchewan graduate Mr Baniak were informed their study had been judged the best article of 2014 by ISOH.
They drew parallels to the expanded role and acceptance of female athletes in the modern Olympics, compared to their poor representation in the early 1900s.
It noted that, up until the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, less than 2.5 per cent of competitors were female.
Women comprised 44 per cent of athletes at the 2012 London Games.
“Changes such as this take time, hard work and support from teammates, coaches and countries,” Dr Jobling said.
“Gay rights groups and an increasingly accepting society have come a long way in challenging homophobia.
“This has occurred through education and awareness from the Gay Games, through society’s push to further gay rights and via the most openly gay Olympics ever, in London.
“Although there is still much progress to be made, especially by the International Olympic Committee, the tide has turned in favour of gay Olympians, with no intention of changing back.”
The 2014 Journal of Olympic History article identifies Queenslanders Natalie Cook (beach volleyball) and Matthew Mitcham (diving) as the only two openly gay members of Australia’s 2012 Olympic team.
Several athletes, including Ian Thorpe and Greg Louganis, have waited until their sporting careers ended before identifying as homosexual.