The discussion, however was a disappointment. I wasn't present straight from the beginning and it took a moment to catch up when I arrived but very quickly I got the impression that none of the panel members had anything ground-breaking to say. I think that at least part of the problem was the composition of the panel: there was only one athlete; a girl whose sport was Taekwon-Do, a guy from a group doing a research of discrimination and another guy from the Finnish Olympic Committee.
So, the only one who could tell her own experiences was the Taekwon-Do girl and she even said herself that coming out of closet never was an issue for her and that it is probably completely another story if you're a team-player. I didn't bother to listen closely the two men as they really hadn't got much to say.
If I had formed the panel I would've asked a coach and an athlete from some teams, preferably different sports, to participate. Then of course some research guy could've been okay and maybe some 'big boss' from a sports club or a specific association (for instance Finnish Figure Skating Association, I mean).
In my opinion, these kind of discussions are far more intriguing if they include a lot of first-hand experience about the matter. I know team sports and truth to be told, the peer pressure is much more powerful than at school for instance. To get along is not optional and each member has their own responsibility of the team. It is vital to be able to be yourself and trust your team mates. Of course everyone isn't best friends with one another but unlike at school you can't decide to not interact with certain people or to voluntarily be an outsider. I remember this one time when I was warming up with one of my favourite people from our synchro team and she just randomly said: "What if some of us was lesbian? Would that be gross?" I instantly thought that I never could tell these people that I also liked girls (because I apparently was in some semi-conscious level aware of my non-heterosexual orientation already, whatever it was by then). In spite of that rude-ish comment this girl still is one my favourite synchro people - she's very straightforward at all times and
My personal experience is that girls are little more tolerable towards one of them being gay than boys. I don't know this, I just have a feeling. In any case, if even I who normally have no problems being myself - out and proud and usually loud, felt that my team wouldn't take it too well to have bi-/homosexual as their team member, imagine what it is like in football or hockey, both of which are popular and traditionally manly sports.
At this point I have to clarify that I don't think we should encourage people to be brave and exemplary and come out of closet. It's everybody's own decision whether or not they want to be public about their personal stuff. Besides, if we handle this matter the way that makes young gays in team sports feel being pushed to come out, we're not any nearer our goal: equality between people regardless of their sexual orientation. Calling attention to the fact that there are lgbt's in sports and highlighting them without asking their opinion is almost equally as bad as ignoring them.
Now, as I am the ultimate solution machine when it comes to anyone else's than my own problems, I'm going to tell you what should be done instead.
When talking about the rights of minorities the central intention is to sort of improve the attitudinal climate to reduce discrimination and hatred. Quite often there's a couple of celebrities and/or politicians standing for the cause and trying to appeal to people. But tell you what, taking some openly gay athlete and putting words into their mouth won't make a difference because kids can't really relate to someone like that. Of course it's encouraging for the gay kids who are struggling with what they are but it's not the gays we want to change, is it? It's the common attitude in sports that needs a dose of tolerability and open-mindedness. I don't think it's reasonable to expect that closet-gays would start coming out happily following one or two popular examples. Repeating myself, it's each and everyone's own business how much personal information they want to share publicly.
More effective than a gay role model would most likely be someone straight who could in their own words say that it's okay if there's a gay in my team and that bullying is not acceptable. Obviously it had to be someone popular enough to move great masses.
Now that Finland has gloriously won the Hockey World Championships I came to think that who would be more eagerly heard than the players of the winning team. Especially our dear Granlund who's practically a living legend at the moment and has a huge, young fan base even outside the hockey rinks. I don't know what he thinks about anything, nor do I hugely care but if he happened to be a smart young man, not blinded by those eternal prejudices, there's a chance the he or someone like him could start a new kind of revolution in sports. It's pretty rare to have a person, not to mention so young in such a spot of nationally collective admiration than he seems to be now.
I have but one point that I have to empathise: although having a largely celebrated sports hero telling kids not to bully gays is an ideal, it's absolutely vital that the person actually agrees with what she or he is saying. People sense if the speaker is being dishonest or not committed to the cause and then they most likely aren't going to buy it. Being sincere, believable and convincing is based on honesty and that's another challenge in finding the right person to be a role model. Reading someone else's thoughts from a piece of paper is not effective.