With more LGBTQ athletes than ever, Games focus on Japan

The Olympic rings are seen in front of the skyline as the sun sets one night before the official opening of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, July 22, 2021.

The Olympic rings are seen in front of the skyline as the sun sets one night before the official opening of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan on July 22, 2021. (REUTERS)

TOKYO – More than 160 openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer athletes are expected to compete in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, making this year’s Games the most inclusive ever.

This put the spotlight on the host country, Japan, which activists say is out of step with much of the rest of the world, not having seen the same sweeping social change that has made same-sex marriage and d ‘greater inclusion is a reality in many countries.

Fumino Sugiyama, a 39-year-old former Japan national team fencer and transgender activist, said he was delighted to see the progress of diversity at the Games. Sports were very different when he was younger, he said, and discriminatory language was common.

Sugiyama started fencing at the age of 10, rose through the ranks and eventually competed internationally for the Japanese women’s team. He felt conflicted with identifying as a woman in competitions and retired at age 25.

“I loved the sport of fencing, I didn’t feel like I could find a place for myself,” he said.

While Japan is known for its strong civil society and democracy, human rights activists say it still has a long way to go to address lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ ).

The Olympic charter prohibits discrimination and while Tokyo passed anti-discrimination law three years ago, there aren’t the same legal protections for much of the rest of the country.

Rights activists hope to use the Games as an opportunity to educate and support the public about LGBTQ issues.

“I think a lot of people in the world think that Japan is the defender of human rights, but it is the opposite, because we have no equality in marriage, we have no law to prohibit discrimination. on sexual orientation or gender identity, ”said Gon Matsunaka, founder of Japan’s first LGBTQ center, Pride House.

Foreign teams are also carrying the message to Japan.

German women’s hockey team captain Nike Lorenz will wear a rainbow-colored captain’s armband to show solidarity with LGBTQ communities at all her matches, the German Olympic Sports Confederation said .

He said the International Olympic Committee approved his request to allow Lorenz to don the armband, just as Germany’s Manuel Neuer, the national football team captain, did at Euro 2020 on the month. latest.

“We are happy to have found a common path which allows the hockey team to make a socio-political statement”, declared Alfons Hoermann, the president of the confederation.

Sugiyama, who also hosts the annual city pride march, became the first transgender person to be named to the Japanese Olympic Committee.

“To be excluded from the world of sport is to be excluded from society, so I think it is important to seize this opportunity to lead firmly to positive discussions,” he said.

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