Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Staying in the closet still makes sense

Even if Gareth Thomas (left) wasn't attracted towards teammates, then other gay sportsmen and women will be. Photo / Getty Images
Even if Gareth Thomas (left) wasn't attracted towards teammates, then other gay sportsmen and women will be. Photo / Getty Images

Gareth Thomas took a giant step for a small percentage of men and a tiny step for mankind by announcing he was gay.

Well, from my heterosexual point of view, that's what it looks like.

But also count me in as a doubting Thomas because while the former Welsh rugby captain can be admired for coming out, as the term goes, he may not have been entirely honest.

Whether he was headline-hunting, as the former Welsh player turned columnist Eddie Butler seemed to imply, who cares?

That he did it at all will do some good, whatever the motivation or timing, because homophobia still exists, and in unhealthy doses. Many people still see homosexuals and bisexuals as weirdos in dark corners, or downright dangerous.

Already there have been claims that Thomas didn't need to make the grand announcement that, as the former English hooker Brian Moore said in a largely satirical and clever column: "I hope any other gay players do not similarly worry about coming out; we really don't care."

Which is easy for Moore to say. In a perfect world, sexuality wouldn't be an issue, but we haven't yet reached that stage. Some homosexuals still live in fear, ironically because of other people's irrational fears. As a result, many have had to go through the agony of living a lie, including Thomas, who was married.

There's no doubt that Thomas, in publicly outing himself, has played his small part in the drive for society to be more accepting of homosexuals, and all minorities. Some people still need to find out that homosexuals are normal citizens.

So what, you might say, but there are plenty who say far more than that, and none of it pleasant.

But Thomas can't be serious in wanting us to believe that he never fancied any teammates. He is either being prudent, or retains some self-denial, although you wouldn't blame him for either.

Here is a crux of the problem. There are still men who will feel uncomfortable playing with or against homosexuals.

"My biggest fear was that if my rugby mates knew, they'd all think I fancied them and reject me," Thomas was quoted as saying.

This is undoubtedly why he also claimed never to have fancied any of them. Thomas has had hundreds of teammates. It goes against the law of averages, and what all of us know about overt or illicit attraction, to claim he never felt any sort of desire towards any of them.

And, at a pinch, if he wasn't attracted in any way towards a teammate, then other homosexual sportsmen and women will be. Because that's just life.

That he put in this disclaimer is evidence enough to the contrary and an indication of where a gay sporting problem lies. Will a gay sportsman ever reveal that he is indeed attracted to other men in his teams, but knows good boundaries and how to deal with that just as many heterosexual people do in their everyday lives? That could be the next breakthrough.

As for the follow-up subject of a lack of closet-leaving in English football, who can blame these secretive homosexuals. English football will be the last sporting society on earth where gay people will feel comfortably open about their sexuality.

For all of its magnificence, and humour, English football also has a moronic and violent element eager to savage anything regarded as different or unacceptable.

Unacceptable can mean supporting another club, leaving your club, being black, having a job, not having a job, or - have no doubt - being homosexual. Some of football's worst racists have been revealed as premier league footballers, and there will be plenty of ugly homophobes in the mix as well.

The intelligence with which the game is covered on television and the media contrasts with what exists in sections of the player and supporter ranks. Some fans and players will use anything to rile an opponent, whether they believe in it or not.

Any pioneers in sexual honesty in this arena will risk an absolute beating from out of the stands, and you couldn't rely on all your teammates, either.

The late Justin Fashanu, the only top English footballer to venture into these dangerous waters, was ridiculed by a famous manager, the crowds, teammates and even disowned by his own brother, also a top player. Gay footballers would be cannon fodder in the machismo tabloids - this newspaper genre's most famous editor, theSun's Kelvin MacKenzie, was a notorious gay-basher.

Who the hell would be brave enough to brave that for game after game, year after year? So we won't blame you for staying in the closet, lads. Either that, or come out when you're no longer in the game.

* The Aussie cricket commentators went suddenly cold on Hot Spot at the end of the Perth test between the Baggy Greens and the West Indies. They were almost begging Billy Bowden to raise his curly finger again, even though their high-tech Hot Spot machine couldn't find a nick on a West Indian bat to signal the end of the game and confirm victory to Australia.

Suddenly, this previously treasured piece of technology was said to not always get it right. Yeah right.

* New Zealand tennis is a laugh at the best of times, unless you want to take the game seriously. Now its chief executive, Steve Walker, thinks he can live in Melbourne and still run the game here.

The chairman, David Patterson, reckons "Steve is committed to Tennis NZ". He then spouts more meaningless phrases like "plain and transparent", and explains Walker's arrangement as "he is trying to effect his job by commute". There's nothing like a bit of gobbledygook to sound smart in an effort to cover up a stupid situation. No wonder the game is in a mess. No one can lead a sport while living in another country because, for a start, it smacks of a lack of commitment. Appearances are important. To an outsider, this actually looks like one of those pathetic dances that occurs in employment disputes.

Onny Parun, our tennis great, was almost right in claiming key NZ tennis people including Walker were leading the game "down the road to oblivion". New Zealand tennis is already there and it won't be saved until it is run by committed people with clear heads and straight-talking honesty. If Walker wants to return home to Aussie, he should have the decency to quit and let someone with the right attitude take over.

As for Patterson's claims that a lot of good things are going on in our tennis - rubbish. New Zealand is a Davis and Federation Cup nobody and we haven't produced a world-class player like Parun for yonks.

- NZ Herald

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Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

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