Retired Olympic diver Matthew Mitcham has spoken out about LGBTI rights overseas as the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games have kicked off.

Just 13 openly gay athletes are competing, out of 6,600 athletes, according to The Daily Telegraph.

“How many are in the closet, we may never know,” said Mitcham.

“There are 76 countries in the world where homosexuality is still illegal; 42 of those countries are in the Commonwealth.

“I think that goes a long way to explaining why there are so few openly gay and lesbian athletes here at this competition, because in 42 of the countries that are here it is illegal to be gay.”

The Commonwealth of Nations has 53 members, with a total of 71 teams competing in the Games including dependent territories under their own flags.

There are other reasons people don’t come out,” said Mitcham.

“People come from a wealth of different backgrounds where sexuality is not so openly embraced and people don’t feel they are able to be authentically themselves.”

Mitcham said his own experience was that coming out as gay improved his performance as an athlete.

“Speaking from experience, being an openly gay authentic me, that had the most profound effect on my self esteem, which then had the most profound effect on my performance,” he said.

“It meant I was able to be present in my training sessions, which means I was able to give myself wholeheartedly to every session and I was able to focus so intensely on the diving, because I didn’t have any of this social interactional sexuality stuff going on in the background.”

Mitcham said he hoped LGBTI athletes who hadn’t felt able to come out might be heartened by their experiences in Australia.

“I would like to hope it gives them a bit of hope, when they do realise that they are not alone,” he said.

The Gold Coast Commonwealth Games features Australia’s first Pride House, an inclusive and safe venue for LGBTI athletes and fans to enjoy the Games.

Located at Rise Bar in Surfers Paradise, it features two information exhibits, LGBTI People of the Commonwealth and Australian LGBTIQ+ Sporting Trailblazers, both making their Australian debut.

The Pride House will be open until April 15.

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