When, still damp from the pool after winning his long-awaited gold medal, British diver Tom Daley declared his pride at being a gay man and also an Olympic champion, there were tears and full hearts across the nation.
And while there was little shock – Daley has been a vocal advocate of LGBTQ+ rights for years – there was a joy and ease to his pronouncement that was new. With more publicly out athletes in these Olympics than in all other Games combined, Tokyo 2020 is being hailed as the Rainbow Olympics, with LGBTQ+ rights campaigners hoping its message of positive inclusivity can have a lasting, global impact.
There are at least 172 LGBTQ+ and out athletes competing in Tokyo, more than three times as many as Rio 2016, according to Outsports.com, which celebrates the achievements of LGBTQ+ sportspeople. Outsports counted 23 publicly out Olympians in London 2012 and 56 in Rio 2016. The US tops the table of most out stars in 2021, with Team GB taking bronze with 16 out athletes.
The Outsports co-founder Cyd Zeigler says the site is being contacted by LGBTQ+ athletes in the Olympic village asking to be added to the list, a dramatic shift from five years ago when the opposite was more likely to happen. “That really reflects the pride that these athletes take in being LGBTQ. It’s not something that they want to hide any more, they want to be recognised as part of the community,” he says. “It’s clear that these really are the Rainbow Games.”