If Australia’s Gay Games team needed any inspiration when it heads to Cologne later this year it needs look no further than its own camp.

Australia’s most recognisable gay athlete and Beijing Olympic gold medallist Matthew Mitcham will be in camp with the national team inspiring them on to medals, personal bests and long-lasting friendships.

“I know there is already a high number [of athletes] from Australia going and I am really excited about being part of this amazing global event; contributing to the strong Australian attendance and inviting the world to visit us Down Under,” Mitcham told Sydney Star Observer.

“I’m excited to be part of something so important for our communities around the globe. This event brings lesbian and gay life out on the court, onto the track, and into the pool.

“Being out means for me being just as I am, with nothing to be ashamed about and no reasons to hide. Participating at the Gay Games is a great chance for all gays and lesbians to show that we as a community are not like the stereotypes the straight media loves to portray.”

Mitcham’s decision to support the Australian team in Cologne has put a smile on Federation of Gay Games presidents Emy Ritt and Kurt Dahl. The pair are basking in the success of the Cologne Games which already boasts more than 5300 participants five months out from the event.

“Matthew is one of the most recognised openly gay sportspersons of our time and is a fantastic role model, especially for younger people,” the pair said in a statement.

“He is focused and successful in his sport and doesn’t have to hide being gay. This is something that Gay Games founder Dr Tom Waddell would have been so proud of.

“After almost 30 years, the Gay Games continues to make lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender life visible through sports and culture, thus allowing new generations to be accepted just as they are.”

Mitcham will interrupt his training schedule to travel to Cologne and support his team.

He said he hoped his decision to compete as an openly gay man at Beijing in 2008 would inspire not only gay and lesbian athletes, but the community in general.

“Young lesbians and gays, athletes or not, should be encouraged to feel comfortable with who they are. Once you have figured that out for yourself, there is simply no reason to hide anything, either to your family, your sport mates, your friends or even to the public,” he said.

“I think the first step is the frightening thing. Once you have passed that, you can concentrate again on your own life and your dreams rather than on what others might think about you if they would know about your sexuality.”

Mitcham won’t have to struggle to find the airfare to get to Cologne like he did two years ago to get to Beijing. His travel to Cologne is being covered by Lufthansa, a testament to Mitcham’s pull in global sporting circles.

It is an influence he hopes has changed the way the public views gays and lesbians.

“Sport in many fields is still dominated by old school attitudes and fears of gays and lesbians being a negative force if they are open about their sexuality,” he said.

“In my own sport I am lucky that I am recognised fo my abilities and that no one really seems to care what I do in my private life.

“But looking at other male-dominated sports, for me it is still hard to believe that there’s no one officially ‘out’ there. It is clear there are still serious social barriers to not allowing gay men to be out at an elite level of sport.”

info: The eighth edition of the quadrennial Gay Games will be held in Cologne, Germany from 31 July-7 August 2010. Matthew will capture his trip to Germany and participation in the Gay Games on his Facebook page www.facebook.com/pages/Matthew-Mitcham-Olympian/23129711303.

Photo: Will Chiung

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