A women’s soccer player from Japan has come out as gay and encourages other LGBT athletes to do the same ahead of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Shiho Shimoyamada, 24, who plays for SV Meppen, a team in the second tier of the German Bundesliga, came out in an interview for Pride House Tokyo, which will host events for LGBT people through the Games.
She added in her message to athletes who keep their sexual orientation hidden, “Once you share your feelings with the company you keep, sports will become even more fun.”
The organizers for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics have promoted diversity and encouraged more lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people to participate in sports.
But Shimoyamada has noticed what is critically missing in the effort.
“You don’t see the face of a LGBT person,” she said.
Unlike the case in other nations, no sports association in Japan have added sexual orientation to their bylaws to protect and promote LGBT athletes.
As the host nation, Japan has an automatic bid to the women’s Olympics soccer event, so Shimoyamada has a good chance of representing her country as an out athlete. Japan’s best Olympics showing in women’s soccer was a silver medal at the 2012 Games.
Playing in Germany, Shimoyamada said her teammates are nonchalant and accepting of her being gay. “They don’t perceive a LGBT player as special. I can play just as a soccer player here, and I feel comfortable in such a relationship,” Shimoyamada said.
A record 56 out LGBT athletes competed at the 2016 Rio Games.