(Reuters) – Britain’s Olympic diving champion Tom Daley has condemned homophobia across Commonwealth nations on the eve of the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Birmingham on Thursday.
Homosexuality is a criminal offence in 35 of the 56 nations that make up the Commonwealth, with many still enforcing colonial-era laws from the British empire. Punishments include whipping, life imprisonment and death penalty.
As part of a BBC documentary to be aired next month, Daley travelled to some of the Commonwealth’s most homophobic countries to highlight the discrimination faced by the LGBT+ community.
The film will culminate with Daley carrying the Queen’s baton into Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium for the opening ceremony, accompanied by some of the athletes and advocates he met filming the documentary.
“I’ve experienced homophobia all my life, competing in countries where it’s illegal to be me and where I don’t feel safe to leave the venue I’m competing in,” Daley, who came out as gay in 2013, said in a statement released on Wednesday.
“If I feel like that as a privileged man, I can’t imagine what day-to-day life is like for LGBT+ people around the Commonwealth.
“LGBT+ athletes must be safe and feel comfortable being their authentic selves without fear of persecution or death.”
Daley, 28, a four-time Commonwealth champion, said last month he will not compete at this year’s event as he continues his break from competition after winning gold at the Tokyo Olympics.
Athletes featuring in his documentary, titled “Tom Daley: Illegal To Be Me”, include Michael Gunning, the only openly gay athlete on Jamaica’s national team, and Dutee Chand, India’s first openly gay athlete.
“The Commonwealth Games Federation can be a shining example to other sporting organisations that sports really can be for everyone and with the pull power sports has,” Daley said.
“We can hopefully influence change to horrendous human rights laws that exist in so many countries around the world.
“The CGF has been willing to talk and willing to hear what we have to say, and it’s good to see they’ve started taking a stance towards more inclusion. Along with incredible LGBT+ people around the Commonwealth, we will make a difference.”
(Reporting by Hritika Sharma in Hyderabad; Editing by Michael Perry)