Will Young challenges 'homophobic' tennis environment – Metro.co.uk


Will Young has attended several tennis events (Picture: Getty Images)

While women’s tennis has boasted trailblazers for openly gay athletes, such as Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King, the absence of a publicly homosexual male remains something of a mystery.

Billed as one of the most liberal sports and one that offers equal prize money for men and women at the biggest events, the lack of an openly gay male tennis player is somewhat curious.

Former world No. 67 Brian Vahaly came out in 2017 and told the Telegraph a year later that about 30 young players had come out to him in private, but were scared of making their sexuality public.

It’s a topic that has been discussed in the past, but singer Will Young has now raised the subject once again.

Brian Vahaly came out after retiring (Picture: Getty Images)

In his podcast Homo Sapiens, which is described as ‘Radio 4’s “woman’s hour” for an LGBTQ+ audience’, Young – a known tennis fan – admitted he sensed a ‘homophobic environment for men’.

‘I have a sense in tennis, from other people I’ve spoken to and I promise this is just my thing, but it feels quite a homophobic environment for men,’ he said.

‘There’s something about it and I’ve been around it a bit and it just feels like hang on this doesn’t feel right.

‘Where’s the threat coming from? Unless it’s coming from sponsors which is the obvious thing.’

Clare Balding, who is on site at Bath University this week anchoring BT Sport’s coverage of the Fed Cup, suspects male athletes still suffer from societal pressure to be a ‘masculine alpha male’.

Balding discussed the topic (Picture: AMA/Getty)

‘I think actually sport for gay women is an incredibly safe space,’ Balding said.

‘There are a lot of gay women who play hockey or golf or tennis or whatever and there have been some very visible gay women like Martina [Navratilova] and Billie Jean King.



Will Young and Clare Balding discussion on Homo Sapiens

Will Young: There isn’t a gay tennis player…

Clare Balding: Men, you mean. There are plenty of gay female tennis players.

WY: Why are there some sports where it seems to be more acceptable?

CB: Golf as well – is there a gay golfer? I think actually sport for gay women is an incredibly safe space. There are a lot of gay women who play hockey or golf or tennis or whatever and there have been some very visible gay women like Martina [Navratilova] and Billie Jean King. I think for men it’s still that conflict between – and it’s so unfair, so unkind and so untrue of the masculine alpha male is therefore straight and to be a leading sportsman you’ve got to be rawwrrrr – a bear. Why can’t you be gay?

WY: Whose problem is it? If they’re not going to… they don’t have to tell people they’re gay publicly it’s completely up to them. What’s holding it back? Is it them thinking they’re going to lost some sort of masculinity or femininity in other sports?

CB: I think it’s a massive problem with fans. I wish I could pretend it could be solved tomorrow. There’s way more that could be done to shame those people who behave like that.

WY: It’s illegal. Why not someone in tennis or golf? The fans in tennis aren’t like… I have a sense in tennis, from other people I’ve spoken to and I promise this is just my thing, but it feels quite a homophobic environment for men. There’s something about it and I’ve been around it a bit and it just feels like hang on this doesn’t feel right. Where’s the threat coming from? Unless it’s coming from sponsors which is the obvious thing.

CB: Look at someone like Tom Daley who has handled everything brilliantly because he’s such a modern media savvy, he can control his own narrative, which I certainly didn’t have the luxury of doing. I think Tom really has been able to tell the story he’s wanted to tell in the way he’s wanted to tell it, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t get attacked, he does, but equally he gets huge bonuses from it. Pampers deal, yippee!

‘I think for men it’s still that conflict between – and it’s so unfair, so unkind and so untrue of the masculine alpha male is therefore straight and to be a leading sportsman you’ve got to be rawwrrrr – a bear. Why can’t you be gay?’

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic discussed the issue at last year’s season-ending ATP Finals and, like most players who have been quizzed on the absence of a gay colleague, offered support to anyone who decides to come out publicly.

Djokovic offered his backing to any gay players (Picture: AFP/Getty Images)

‘I actually see that as a really courageous move,’ the Serb said.

‘I wouldn’t have anything against that, absolutely. I mean, it’s everybody’s right to have sexual orientation as they desire, any kind of direction in life they desire. I respect it.’

The wait goes on for one to make that ‘courageous move’, it’s a crying shame if tennis really has bred a ‘homophobic environment’.

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