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International Triathlon Union bans rainbow flags from all races

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The ITU equates gay people waving rainbow flags at triathlons with bad sportsmanship and reduced safety.

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According to the International Triathlon Union, this rainbow flag is a dangerous, unsportsmanlike display that must be eradicated from all competitions.
Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images

The International Triathlon Union has banned rainbow flags from all competitions, equating the rainbow flag with unsportsmanlike, disrespectful and dangerous displays.

The new rule for 2019 states:

“Athletes will avoid displaying any kind of demonstration of political, religious, sexual orientation or racial propaganda.”

The “sexual orientation” part of that is the new part, and is designed specifically to eliminate rainbow flags from any competitions.

The punishment? The athlete will be warned and, if they do not remove the rainbow flag, they will be disqualified and removed from the competition.

ITU spokesperson Olalla Cernuda defended the new rule, telling Outsports it “is a similar wording that is included in many other sporting organizations.”

That isn’t sitting well with at least one gay triathlete.

“This change of policy is a step backwards,” Jack Bristow told Outsports. “I’ve flown a rainbow flag at a race before because I’m proud to be a gay athlete and I want to be a visible example so that other LGBT people feel like they can get involved. To have my pride equated with political extremism and to be told to go back in the closet for my own safety is insulting.”

Bristow also said that he intends to break the rule and display a rainbow flag at the European age-group championships in May. Bristow won his age group at those very championships last year.

British Triathlon sent a message to its members, of which Bristow is one, stating that their new rules are going to reflect the ITU rules. However, athletes running in British-run triathlons will not face disqualification, though they will be informed that they are breaking the ITU rule.

Interestingly, the new rule does not include a ban on displays of gender identity. So while the rule clearly bans the rainbow flag, I can’t see anything in the rules that would ban an athlete displaying a trans-pride flag.

At a time when LGBTQ people continue to be targeted in so many parts of the world simply for who they are, it is discouraging to see an organization like the ITU take a step backward, as Bristow said. Rainbow flags are not political, they are not dangerous, they are not unsportsmanlike. They are beautiful and inspiring. It’s sad the ITU has clearly fallen to political pressure from anti-gay forces.