Gay basketball hero to be Olympic ambassador

Tony Grew June 2, 2008
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Former NBA player John Amaechi will be Amnesty International’s first sporting ambassador at the Beijing Olympics this summer.

The 37-year-old, who is the only basketball player in the history of the NBA to come out of the closet, is attending the Games as a BBC commentator.

The exact scope of his additional role for Amnesty is unclear, but Amaechi has already urged athletes to speak out about China’s record on human rights.

“To gag athletes is outrageous,” the British basketball star told The Guardian.

“Since when are equality of opportunity, basic human rights, since when have these things been political?

“I won’t allow any official to tell me that these are political issues and I cannot go there.

“My experience of the world having lived in eight countries is that human rights are not political, they are fundamental.

“I’ve read the Olympic charter and it is quite clear that it expects from athletes something more than being hugely talented beasts of burden.

“It expects that sport be more than entertainment of the masses.

“During their Olympic bid Beijing said the Games would be used to improve the human rights situation in China.

“They opened the door to that scrutiny and by aligning myself with Amnesty I hope that we can help hold those promises to account.”

Amaechi, who grew up near Manchester and pursued his professional career in the US and Europe, claimed that being an ambassador for human rights in China is “the most Olympian thing to do.”

“Athletes in their best light could be holistic role models, not simply regarded for how they swim or run or kick.”

The Amaechi Basketball Centres Foundation is the focus of much of the athlete’s charitable work.

It aims to increase participation in physical activity by building affordable, quality facilities and making expert coaches and mentors available to young people.

The charity built its first sports centre in Manchester.

Amaechi chose to come out last year in an autobiography, Man In The Middle.

Read our exclusive interview with John Amaehi here.

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