February 16 - Olympic gold medallist Matthew Mitcham (pictured), who is expected to be Tom Daley's biggest rival at London 2012, will travel to the Gay Games in Cologne later this year to support Australia's team, he has announced.

The support of the diver, Australia's most openly-gay athlete is a major boost for the event, which already has more than 5,300 participants even though it does not open until July 31.

Mitcham, who won the 10 metre platform event in Beijing in 2008, plans to stay in the camp with Australia's team.

He said: "I know there is already a high number [of athletes] from Australia going and I am really excited about being part of this amazing global event; contributing to the strong Australian attendance and inviting the world to visit us Down Under.

"I’m excited to be part of something so important for our communities around the globe.

"This event brings lesbian and gay life out on the court, onto the track, and into the pool.

"Being out means for me being just as I am, with nothing to be ashamed about and no reasons to hide.

"Participating at the Gay Games is a great chance for all gays and lesbians to show that we as a community are not like the stereotypes the straight media loves to portray."

It is estimated that Mitcham was one only 11 openly gay athletes competing in Beijing, out of 11,028 athletes from 204 countries, and was the only one to win a medal.
After his victory in the Chinese capital, where he was watched by his partner Lachlan Fletcher, Mitcham was voted Australian athlete of the year and his image appeared on an Olympic stamp.
The support of Mitcham (pictured) has been applauded by the Federation of Gay Games presidents Emy Ritt and Kurt Dahl.

They said in a joint statement: "Matthew is one of the most recognised openly gay sportspersons of our time and is a fantastic role model, especially for younger people.

“He is focused and successful in his sport and doesn’t have to hide being gay.

"This is something that Gay Games founder Dr Tom Waddell would have been so proud of.

"After almost 30 years, the Gay Games continues to make lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender life visible through sports and culture, thus allowing new generations to be accepted just as they are."

Mitcham will interrupt his training schedule to travel to Cologne and support his team.

He said he hoped his decision to compete as an openly gay man would inspire not only gay and lesbian athletes, but the community in general.

Mitcham said: "Young lesbians and gays, athletes or not, should be encouraged to feel comfortable with who they are.

"Once you have figured that out for yourself, there is simply no reason to hide anything, either to your family, your sport mates, your friends or even to the public.

“I think the first step is the frightening thing.

"Once you have passed that, you can concentrate again on your own life and your dreams rather than on what others might think about you if they would know about your sexuality."

Mitcham's trip is being sponsored by German airline Lufthansa.

He said: “Sport in many fields is still dominated by old school attitudes and fears of gays and lesbians being a negative force if they are open about their sexuality.

“In my own sport I am lucky that I am recognised for my abilities and that no one really seems to care what I do in my private life.

"But looking at other male-dominated sports, for me it is still hard to believe that there’s no one officially ‘out’ there.

"It is clear there are still serious social barriers to not allowing gay men to be out at an elite level of sport."

Related stories
September 2009:
 Mitcham hoping to be even better by London 2012 to see off Daley
May 2009: Daley rival sets sights on four medals at London 2012
February 2009: Gay Australian Olympic gold medallist finally lands sponsorship deal