Gay and lesbian sport in Australia has a bigger profile than ever before thanks to Olympic diving gold medallist Matthew Mitcham.

With one dive Mitcham showed the world we could match it with the best there is on an international level.

But of course gay and lesbian sport has a longer history than the 2008 Olympics — and the annual Team Sydney Mardi Gras Sports Festival showcases our talents year after year.

Team Sydney president Geoffrey Radford said it was an important message the organisation takes very seriously.

“Sport for so long has been associated with the straight community only,” Radford said.

“We have something like 1500 gay and lesbian people playing sport each week. Sure, there have been some famous sporting personalities out there in the mainstream who have come out and are proud to call themselves a gay athlete and we are thankful to them for being so honest. The mainstream world has accepted them for what they have achieved, not who they are.

“Many of the events of the Sports Festival are held in well-known venues that are open to the general public and through publicity of our events we hope to show them that there are many more of us out there leading normal public lives regardless of our sexuality.”

Team Sydney — in its various incarnations — has been around for more than 20 years promoting and espousing the great work of Sydney’s gay and lesbian sporting groups.

Radford said the organisation’s aim was to make people aware that they can take part in a huge variety of sports and be able to feel comfortable with their sexual identity.

“At the moment we have 32 clubs and there are still more to come under the fold of Team Sydney,” Radford said.

“When I joined Team Sydney there were hardly a dozen clubs. Apart from the core sports like rugby, soccer, tennis, basketball, netball, swimming, athletics, there are some unusual ones like SUBS [underwater bushwalking — scuba diving], table tennis, lawn bowls, dragonboat racing and tenpin bowling.

“You would be amazed to find out how little some people know as they only think of sport as the major players, i.e. rugby, soccer and tennis.
“We are in the process of revamping our website where we hope to provide better information of what is available and how to go about approaching clubs. For so long we have had to rely on word-of-mouth but things are changing.”

Radford said the 2010 sports festival, held over three weeks, enabled clubs to showcase their sport and member achievements.

“The Team Sydney Sports Festival shows that there can indeed be a way to promote a healthy lifestyle through sport and get away from the rat race of night clubs,” he said.

“This is one of three events during the year where our member clubs come together to promote their activities.

“The other’s been more of a promotional activity with the Sports Village, although there will be some demonstration sports going on within the village.

“The other activity is Sports Day Out held during the year. There is a lot of activity going on during Mardi Gras Festival time and the sport element is an important component.”

Bringing the sports festival together requires months of planning. Team Sydney confers with each of its member organisations to ensure the program is diverse, inclusive and interesting.

“It is a lot of hard work. Most of the  various events don’t just happen overnight. They need to be planned months ahead so that good venues can be obtained,” Radford said.

“It comes down to those who are willing to raise their hands and help with the planning. Fortunately we have found four new board members from our clubs who are willing to take on the extra workload.

“Indeed this year’s Mardi Gras coordinator is one of them. Doug Sinclair comes to us with a wealth of experience, having set up not one but two dragonboat clubs. The old board did a lot of the initial planning through our Sports Council.”

With so much pre-planning behind the scenes, festivalgoers can expect plenty to see and do over the three weeks.

“One of the fun events is the annual tug-of-war held in the Sports Village at Fair Day where rugby plays volleyball or swimmers or women’s baseball or women’s soccer. It is one of the times they all come together,” Radford said.

“Otherwise, there will be a wide variety of events from self-defence to tennis … from lawn bowls to volleyball … water polo to dragonboat racing.”

info: To find out more about Team Sydney and the 2010 Mardi Gras Sports Festival, visit www.teamsydney.org.au

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