Openly gay swimmer Amini Fonua was the flag-bearer for Tonga at the London Olympics last summer. He recently graduated from Texas A&M.
I could sit here and condemn Russia on their anti-gay laws ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, but to be honest, the "accept and love everybody regardless" message that I type out isn't going to do much to change the political decisions made by a country that spans over six and a half million square miles.
What I can do is talk about my own experience as a gay man competing at the highest level of competition known to man: The Olympic Games.
You work your entire life, you wake up at 5 a.m. for 16 years, and you devote hours upon hours of your week executing excellence towards your sport. You physically, mentally and emotionally have so much to think about when you enter the gates of the Olympic Village. For swimming it was: My dive, my splits, my pull-out, trying to not hyper-extend my left knee while turning so I don't get another injury, making sure my hips don't drop when I start to fatigue, keeping my foot speed up, breathing correctly, and pacing myself. All of that is so I can swim the perfect race.
What I just said might sound like Russian to most people, but these are all the things that I obsessed over when I was at the Olympic Games. All in the search of my perfect race, which I'd been working towards since the tender age of 7. Obsession to perform at your peak continues outside the pool too: mental preparation, visualization, goal setting, nutrition, and meticulous time management that goes into performing at your best.
With so many things to be worrying about in my life, I feel so blessed being out when I was 16 and all throughout my collegiate career at Texas A&M. It really was one less thing to worry about, and it allowed me to be in a good head space emotionally and physically to achieve the goals that I wanted to. Unfortunately, that is a luxury that isn't afforded to every athlete, and this is a luxury that all athletes must go without when they arrive in Sochi for the Olympic games next year.
The biggest catastrophe that will come from Russia is that athletes will not be able to perform at their best because they're hiding who they really are. There are so many athletes who have very fun and lively personalities: Think Johnny Weir and Matthew Mitcham, who wouldn't be able to be themselves at an event they've worked their entire lives trying to reach (and yes, I know neither will compete in Sochi).
Think about the emotional toll that must take, going back into the closet for your own physical safety. Sit and think about all the aforementioned stresses that an athlete has, and then add on top of that having to "in" yourself and hope that you don't get kidnapped and tortured like this poor teen was.
If it is in Russia's best interest to be a good Olympic Games host, they need to lift the political bans and prejudices against the GLBT community, if only to ensure that every athlete is competing at their mental, physical, and most importantly, emotional best. If it is in Russia's best interest to hold true to the spirit of Olympiad, a universal event with universal acceptance, then accepting the GLBT community becomes imperative.
Athletes will still go, and why shouldn't they? After working for something your whole life, it is your human right to attend the Olympic Games if you can qualify.
However, you have to seriously question whether an athlete will perform at their physical peak when compromising so much of their own personal character. It isn't something I could have done, and it isn't something anybody should be expected to do.
You can find Amini Fonua on Twitter.