130 Athletes from Ireland travelling

Promably hard for anyone born in the 21st century to believe that up until 1993 homosexual activity was a criminal act in Ireland.

That was the year same-sex sexual activity was decriminalised here. 

Today the result of a campaign by Senator David Norris and the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform seems like a really distant memory.

That work led to a ruling in 1988 that Irish laws prohibiting male homosexual activities were in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights.

That was then this is now.

Fast forward to 2018 and thanks to the type of country we now live in, over 130 LGBT athletes from all over the country will fly to Paris in the coming days to represent Ireland at the 10th edition of Gay Games.

Irish athletes will participate in 15 of the 40 sports on offer over the eight day competition, including athletics, cycling, football, badminton, swimming, hockey and boxing, and for the first time, will be sending athletes in fencing, squash and tennis.

A key objective of Team Ireland, who are sponsored by Axa and Dublin pub The George, is to promote the importance of sport and fitness to members of the LGBT community, which has a much lower participation rate in sport than the general public.

A recent survey found that 55% of LGBT men and 56% of LGBT women were not active enough to maintain good health, compared with 33% and 45% respectively of the general public.

Aidan Walsh, Chairperson of the National Gay Games Committee says: Homophobia and homophobic language is unfortunately still prevalent in many locker rooms around the country and this becomes a barrier to participation for many within the LGBT community, especially among teenagers and young people.

'We hope that Team Ireland’s high profile involvement in the Gay Games will help to break down barriers and continue to make sport a more inclusive and welcoming place for the LGBT community.'

Over 60 members of Team Ireland were invited to Aras an Uachtarain to meet President Michael D Higgins, who referenced gay footballer Justin Fashnanu and Gay Games founder and 1968 Olympian Dr Tom Waddell, in a rousing speech about the importance of Team Ireland’s visibility and involvement in the Gay Games.

President Higgins said: Whether or not you gain medals, you participate as citizens of whom we can be very proud, excellent role models, truly participative members of society, who have the courage to stand up in support of sport becoming a source of tolerance, fairness and equality.”

Almost 12,000 athletes from over 80 countries will take part in the Gay Games Opening Ceremony on Saturday 4th August in the 20,000 capacity Stade Jean-Bouin, home of the Stade Francais rugby team. 

Thankfully everyone can now have a shot at wearing the national colours and sensing what its like to hear your national anthem in an international context.

Go Team Ireland!