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Athlete ambassadors encourage sport to Thrive with Pride

Paralympic rowers Nikki Ayers and Alexandra Viney, along with World Rowing Championships representative Katrina Bateman, are amongst 14 athletes from 10 sports as ambassadors for the inaugural AIS Thrive with Pride program, which aims to provide safe and inclusive sporting environments for all athletes to thrive.

Among the athletes supporting the initiative is two-time Olympic diver Matthew Mitcham who said finding his “authentic self” was the catalyst to coming out of retirement and winning Olympic gold. Former Australia Rugby Sevens captain and Olympic gold medallist Sharni Williams said she was once a “human in the dark”, until sport allowed her to find her true self. Three-time Olympic water polo player Rowie Webster said she never been more motivated “to start the conversations I was too intimidated to start all those years ago.”

These are some of the experiences the ambassadors will be sharing with sporting communities as part of the Thrive with Pride program, which is being launched this year to enhance respectful, educated and inclusive communication in sporting environments.

The AIS has also engaged the expertise of LGBTIQ+ and inclusion bodies Pride in Sport and Proud 2 Play.

AIS Acting CEO Matti Clements said the athlete ambassadors, which comprise LGBTIQ+ athletes and allies, were motivated to engage, educate and empower athletes at all levels to provide inclusive sporting environments.

“I want to thank these athlete ambassadors for putting their hands up to be the leaders for this program, because this has the potential to change lives and sporting environments for the better,” Clements said.

“They will be delivering presentations in sporting environments, endeavouring to build trust, foster change, promote inclusion and ensure every athlete across every sport has the opportunity to thrive as themselves.”

Tokyo Rowing Paralympian Nikki Ayers said she joined the AIS Thrive with Pride Program to make change and provide education and awareness of the LGBTQI+ community across all sports.

“I am in this program as a Paralympian and a member of the LGBTQI+ community,” Ayers said.

“I have been a member of sporting communities that embrace the LGBTQI+ community and others that are lacking in awareness and inclusion. I want to create change that embraces a culture of inclusivity and a safe environment for all community members and specifically the LGBTQI+ community. These changes will allow everyone to perform as athlete at all levels without barriers and negative stigma. I aim to do this by providing education and drawing on my lived experience to improve the culture amongst the sporting world today,” she said.

“I am a positive role model striving to be a champion of change in creating an environment for all athletes to feel comfortable within their sporting organisation. I want every member in the LGBTQI+ community to be who they are and have a positive and rewarding experience as an athlete and be a proud member of the LGBTQI+ community,” Ayers concluded.

Fellow Tokyo Paralympian Alexandra Viney said: “As a Paralympian and a member of the LGBTIQ+ community, l have experienced firsthand the barriers to participation that people in both community’s face.

“The ability to be open with our own personal identity and self-expression is so important and, for me, to identify with a disability was already proving to be a challenge within society let alone being honest about other areas of my life. For a very long time I felt like I was constantly checking over my shoulder and at the cards that I held in my hand wondering and worrying about when my poker face was going to be exposed. The exhaustion and heartache of not being my true self impacted all areas of my life.

“How someone identifies does not predict the calibre of athlete or person, however, it can and has negatively impacted the environment and attitudes to which they and I personally have been exposed to. The good news in that the safe spaces and inclusion experienced within sport is evolving. I am here to be proactive in working towards greater inclusion, education, having conversations and building on connections with allies current and new, and members of the LGBTQI+ community in both sport and life,” Viney concluded.

A travelling reserve at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Bateman said the importance of equality, fairness, acceptance and mutual respect should be non-negotiable.

“It angers me that they’re not and to be one extra voice promoting these values through the AIS Thrive with Pride Program is an opportunity I do not take for granted,” Bateman said.

“Listening to, learning from and affirming LGBTIQ+ voices through the AIS Thrive with Pride Program is an opportunity for myself and other allies to make sport – and the wider community a safe space for LGBTIQ+ people. I believe inclusion, visibility and safe spaces result in people being more successful,” Bateman concluded.

Visit the AIS website for more information on the Thrive with Pride Program.