For over 15 years, Canadian swimmer Mark Tewksbury has been using his success as an Olympian to fight against discrimination and defend gay rights in the sporting world. He is one of many inspirational athletes who, in the lead-up to the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace (IDSDP) on 6 April, illustrates how sport can be a tool for social change contributing to a better world.
“For me the conflict was really basic, really human, like I want to be accepted,” explains the retired athlete, who won gold at the Olympic Games in Barcelona in 1992. “I wanted to do something that is my livelihood and I was afraid if I was simply honest about who I am, all of that would be taken away.”
Despite his fears and social stigma, Tewksbury went public with his sexuality. The Olympic champion credits sharing his story and being true to himself to dropping 1.3 seconds off his personal best. It was a turning point in both his swimming career and life, as he realised that he was one of many athletes and individuals initially held back out of fear of discrimination and humiliation.
Today, the retired swimmer is inspiring others, including fellow athletes, to embrace their true identity and pursue their dreams.
“I was just so confused as to what it meant to be gay and what that meant for my life,” confides Olympic speed-skater Anastasia Bucsis. “I wanted to say [to Mark] ‘I thank you so much’, because what he did just showed so much courage and he really paved the way for people like me.”
Tewksbury adds: “When you can use your sports stories, it gets through so much more powerfully than just the social change message. I think that sport is a great conversation opener and human-experience opener that sort of puts us eye to eye.”
The International Day of Sport for Development and Peace is an opportunity to highlight how sport is a universal tool that drives social change, development and peace across all areas of life.
Learn more about the IDSDP here: www.olympic.org/idsdp
Join the movement at #sport4betterworld
In order to ensure human rights in global sport, and as part of Olympic Agenda 2020, the IOC’s strategic roadmap for the future of the Olympic Movement, the IOC adapted the 6th Fundamental Principle of the Olympic Charter in December 2014 to include non-discrimination on sexual orientation in the spirit of Article 2 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.