Martina Navratilova: Gay Tennis Players Hide In The Closet

Jun 24, 2013
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Tennis great Martina Navratilova says gay men still feel oppressed on court – and many are still in the closet.

The 56-year-old, who has been championing gay rights since she came out in 1981, said she knew  that there were professional male tennis players who were homosexual – but none would go public.

She claimed they had a tougher time in the sports world than those working in entertainment, where many have spoken of their sexuality.

Speaking with sports broadcaster Clare Balding at the launch of London Pride at St James Theater, Victoria, she said that there were far more openly gay women in sport than men.

She said: ‘In the entertainment industry, guys have an easier time coming out than women. In the sports world we have had a lot more women coming out than men.

‘In the US we only have Jason Collins who has come out, the basketball star. So, I don’t know.’

Miss Navratilova was one of the first openly gay sports figures and says she has gave up millions of dollars in endorsements and sponsorships because of her honesty.

She received numerous awards from many of the most influential organizations within the gay and lesbian community.

The Czech-American, who has retired from tennis, campaigned against homophobia in sports for three decades.

She added: ‘It is more difficult in team sports as you may not get to play. But that does not explain why there are no gay male tennis players at all.

‘We know they are there, but they are so far in the closet I don’t know who they are.’

Martina Navratilova

Martina Navratilova

Only one male tennis player has come out as gay and that was only in retirement.

He was Francisco Rodriguez of Paraguay, who played between 2001-2006 and earned a high ranking of 373 in the world.  Rodriguez spoke about being gay in a 2008 saying: ‘If you came out on the tennis tour you would be an outcast.’

Miss Navratilova won 59 Grand Slam single and double crowns, a record 9 Wimbledon singles championships, and is one of the most successful tennis players of all time.

Last year, she revealed that she had embraced playing mother to her partner’s children.

After a string of tempestuous love affairs, she said she had finally decided to settle down – and loved her ‘instantaneous family’.

Miss Navratilova has been in a relationship with former Russian beauty queen Julia Lemigova, 41, since 2006, and the couple were first pictured together in 2009.

During an appearance on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, the sportswoman – who has been hailed as one of the greatest female tennis players of all time – said she spends most of her time in Paris, where Miss Lemigova lives with her children.

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