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Tom Daley dodged Russia competition after coming out because he was afraid of ‘kidnap and torture’

Maggie Baska October 15, 2021
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Tom Daley after he won gold at the Men's Platform Final during the British National Diving Cup in 2019

Tom Daley reacts after winning gold in the Men's Platform Final during the British National Diving Cup 2019 on 3 February 2019 in Plymouth, England. (Getty/Harry Trump)

Tom Daley said stories of “beatings, kidnappings and torture of gay people” played a part in his decision to avoid a 2014 diving competition in Russia.

In his new memoir Coming Up For Air, Daley recalled backing down from the competition partly because he was “nervous about the reaction” to him coming out publicly in a YouTube video a year earlier.

“As well as having an injury, I was intimidated and had heard stories of beatings, kidnappings and torture of gay people,” Daley wrote. “I never read too much about the exact nature of what happened but I knew it went on.”

But when his diving team returned and talked about the event, he “kicked [himself] for not going”. Daley admitted he made the “wrong decision” because he felt “intimidated”, and vowed to “never miss another competition for that reason”.

The Olympic gold medalist now feels “extremely lucky to compete” as an openly LGBT+ athlete without “worrying about the ramifications”.

“I go to Russia quite often and during one competition I wore a rainbow pin badge proudly on my chest when I went to collect my medal on the podium,” Daley wrote in his new book. “Far from feeling scared, it made me feel empowered.”

He described how it felt “important to use my platform in a positive way” to champion LGBT+ rights. Daley hopes any young queer Russian kids who might have seen him competing might “feel stronger and less oppressed as a result”.

But he hasn’t stopped there. Daley has since competed in the Middle East where “being gay is a crime punishable by death in some countries”, and he believes climbing onto a podium as a gay man “speaks louder than boycotting the event”.

He has recently said that it’s his mission to get countries where being queer can equal a death sentence banned from the Olympics.

Tom Daley of Team Great Britain looks on in the Men's 10m Platform Final on day fifteen of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre on August 07, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.
Tom Daley at the Tokyo Olympics. (Clive Rose/Getty)

The LGBT+ community in Russia has faced constant attacks from the country’s government

Russia’s so-called “gay propaganda law” was signed by Vladamir Putin in 2013, banning any “promotion” of “non-traditional sexual relationships”. Anyone found guilty under the law can be sentenced to hefty fines or up to 15 years in prison.

Last month, Andrei Tsyganov, chairman of a commission for the protection of children at the Roskomnadzor communications regulator, said LGBT+, radical feminist and child-free groups should be designated as “extremist” organisations.

The influential government figure said such groups should be “recognised at least as extremism, extremist ideology”. Chillingly, he said labelling them as “extremists” would “expand the rights of law enforcement” and “untie the hands of our law enforcement officers”.

LGBT+ people in the republic of Chechnya have faced waves of persecution. The first horrifying accounts of brutality, torture and killings of LGBT+ people emerged in 2017, and there have been several further reports in the years since.

 

Related topics: Russia, tom daley

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