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Tom Daley calls on Commonwealth Games to lead the way in tackling homophobia in sport

A new BBC One documentary will follow the Olympic gold medallist on his journey to some of the Commonwealth’s most homophobic countries to ask what the sporting world can do to help.

Tom Daley: Illegal to Be Me will see the athlete shine a light on homophobia across the Commonwealth. Image: Zinc Television London Ltd/ Luke Korzun Martin

Tom Daley is not competing at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham this year. But he’s using his platform to make an even bigger splash as he takes a stand against homophobia within the Commonwealth and beyond.

A vital new documentary will follow Daley as he travels to Pakistan and Jamaica and talks to LGBTQ+ athletes from Nigeria and Tonga – all places where LGBTQ+ people could face whipping, life imprisonment or even death – before presenting a manifesto to the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) demanding it does more.

Speaking exclusively to The Big Issue ahead of the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony, Daley said: “The Commonwealth Games Federation has the opportunity to be at the forefront, to be the most inclusive event and the biggest power for change.”

The BBC One documentary Tom Daley: Illegal to Be Me will air on August 9 and culminate in scenes of Daley taking part in this week’s opening ceremony in Birmingham, carrying the Pride flag. He hopes to be joined by competitors who live in fear in the countries they will be representing in a highly visible statement of solidarity.

“It took a lot of heated conversations and a lot of back and forth. But we’re hoping that it is going to come off and be a really powerful moment watched by 1.5 billion people around the Commonwealth,” says Daley.

“So if any kids or young people feel like they do have a place in the Commonwealth and the world, they do have a place to grow up and hope for.”

Daley has spent half his lifetime in the public eye. He competed in his first Olympics in Beijing aged 14, and has subsequently won Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth Games gold medals. Drawing on his own experiences competing in countries where it’s illegal for him to exist and the experiences of those he meets on his journey, Daley asks what the CGF could do to make athletes feel safe to compete and help push for wider change.

“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,” he says. “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. So along with some of these inspirational people, we’re working on a campaign that we wanted to be more than just something you see in a documentary that you watch for an hour and then move on. We wanted it to be something that actually makes a difference.

“LGBT+ athletes must be safe and feel comfortable being their authentic selves without fear of persecution or death.

“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.”

And Daley has plans to take his quest further.

“The Commonwealth Games is just the beginning. If they take on this manifesto, there’s no reason why any other sporting event shouldn’t take it on,” he says.

“I am going to continue working with the athletes and organisations working towards making the Commonwealth Games the most inclusive. But it won’t stop there. I would love to start these exact conversations with the IOC [International Olympic Committee], then FIFA.”

Tom Daley: Illegal to Be Me airs on August 9 on BBC One.

Read more from Tom Daley in next week’s Big Issue. Out Monday 1 August.

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