TOM Daley’s former diving partner Peter Waterfield has praised the teenager for revealing he is in a relationship with a man.
The Southampton-based former Olympic medallist was not surprised when Daley came out earlier this week in a video on YouTube.
Waterfield, Daley’s diving partner at the London Olympics last year in the platform synchro, admits the high-profile teenager’s decision was “a sign of the times”.
Daley, 19, is the latest in a list of high-profile British sports stars to come out – showing the world that, in the 21st century someone’s sexuality is not as controverial as might once have been the case.
The diving ace follows the likes of Welsh rugby union star Gareth Thomas, who came out in 2009, two years before he retired, and current Surrey cricketer Steven Davies.
The respect all three have received for making their sexuality public is a far cry from the abuse that Justin Fashanu received from so-called football fans two decades ago.
“All respect goes out to Tom, he’s played a part in raising awareness by speaking in such a public, open way about such a sensitive subject,” said Waterfield.
“I kind of knew already, if I’m honest. I have a gay brother, so I kind of know the signs of these things.
“I believe Tom has raised awareness for such an important topic in sport and society. Tom is an important role model anyway. He’s in the limelight and has a public status.
“It will send a message to young people not to be scared. I don’t think there was too much surprise about the news, but it is still brave.”
Waterfield, who lives in Millbrook with wife Tania and his family, retired from diving earlier this summer after two decades in the sport.
Daley partnered him at last year’s London Olympics, where they finished fourth in their competition.
Daley’s actions could well act as an inspiration to others, in the same way Thomas’s has.
Since coming out – the first professional rugby union player to do so – Thomas has become a vocal supporter of the British charity ChildLine, a telephone counselling service for children and young people.
He has said: “I don’t know if my life is going to be easier because I’m out, but if it helps someone else, if it makes one young lad pick up the phone to ChildLine, then it will have been worth it.”
In other sporting worlds, it has been easier to come out.
Women’s tennis, for instance, where two legendary figures – Billie Jean-King and Martina Navratilova – were among the first in the sporting world to come out. In the women’s sporting world, Claire Balding – in a civil partnership since 2006 – and Olympic boxing champion Nicola Adams are great role models.
But there is still a long way to go in some sports, notably, men’s football.
In a Wikipedia list of more than 200 gay professional sportsmen and women, only four are male footballers.
Justin Fashanu, a former Saints striker, was the first to come out, back in the early 1990s. He suffered discrimination as a result and his story had a tragic ending when he committed suicide in 1998.
Since then, only one other player in English football has come out – the little-known Leeds player Robbie Rogers, in February this year.
Rogers has since become the first openly gay man to compete in a top US professional sports league, with LA Galaxy.
Former Liverpool defender Glenn Hysen’s son, Anton, has come out in Sweden, while Norwegian Thomas Berling came out after announcing his retirement, claiming widespread dressing room discrimination.
It was a similar story with American David Testo, who came out only after he had finished playing, and Frenchman Olivier Rouger – who only came out after finishing his playing and coaching career.
Daley, Thomas, Davies, Balding and Adams have, as Waterfield has said, all been brave to go public with their sexuality. In this day and age, we shouldn’t really care whether our sporting heroes are straight or not.
Tom Daley is the latest to act as an inspiration to those wrestling with their own decisions.
We can only hope he won’t be the last – and that other stars, in far more popular, mainstream sports, can follow his lead.