Michael Gunning: Jamaican swimmer wants to be part of the change

- BBC News

Michael Gunning: Jamaican swimmer wants to be part of the change

Jamaican swimmer Michael Gunning says he wants to be "part of the change", with homosexuality still illegal in 36 Commonwealth countries.

Gunning, 28, who represented Great Britain before switching to Jamaica in 2016, has announced his retirement.

The UK government saysexternal-link Jamaica has a "hostile" attitude towards towards the LGBT community and certain same-sex sexual activity is illegal.

"Ive been so scared to go back to Jamaica," he told BBC Sport.

"I havent been back because Im scared for my safety.

"Im very open with my advocacy and do want to help change things out there, I want to change the laws. I want to be part of that change and help where I can.

"Young people have connected with me out in Jamaica and said they would love to be open like I am," he added. "They would love to come out to their parents but its just not an environment where they feel like they can."

Gunning is a two-time World Championship competitor and the holder of several Jamaican national records, but decided not to attempt to qualify for this years Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

He says the time is now right to retire from the sport despite not having achieved all of his "dreams" in the pool.

"Ive had an up-and-down career," he added. "I definitely havent achieved all my dreams in swimming but I feel like now is a good time to do what I can outside of the water and carry on making an impact.

"Swimming has been great to me since I was four years old and the highs and the lows have made me the person I am today. I wouldnt be who I am without swimming.

"I would have loved to have qualified and gone to the Commonwealth Games this summer, and the Olympics in Paris, but really I think my journey in competitive swimming is done.

"The impact I really can make now is helping the other side of sport - getting more people into swimming and to carry on inspiring people in other ways."

Last week, Blackpool footballer Jake Daniels, 17, became the first professional in the UK mens game for more than 30 years to come out while still playing.

Gunning believes the fact Daniels felt able to do this shows that "you can literally be exactly who you are".

"Looking back to when I was younger and not having that representation, feeling like I had to suppress who I was, I know there are so many young footballers, so many people, now looking to football and saying there might be that space for me," said Gunning.

"You dont have to pretend to be a certain way, you dont have to pretend to be more masculine or macho, you can literally be exactly who you are, thats enough.

"And the fact that Jake, at 17, being put on a pedestal for just being himself and the fact hes been able to be himself, Im so happy for him.

"Im extremely passionate about change and want to give the world so much. I want to try and make sport equal for all and people like Jake speaking out is showing that sport is for everyone.

"Im excited to try and be part of that movement. Im a little bit scared but Im ready for the next challenge.

"Even though I havent achieved that Olympic dream and won the medals I wanted to achieve, Ive touched so many lives and just want to keep inspiring."

Gunning was one of the very few black athletes in top-level swimming.

Asked whether he thinks representation in the sport has changed, he said: "When I was younger there was no other representation. I was one of the only mixed race and black swimmers around the UK.

"Obviously deep down, I knew about my sexuality but I just didnt think there was a place for me in sport.

"I felt I had to hide who I was, push my sexuality and all the thoughts and feelings I had deep down because I didnt want to be ashamed. I didnt want to be seen as weak, I wanted to be seen as confident, I wanted to be seen as the same as everyone else.

"For so long I tried to fit in but now more people are coming out, more people are being true to themselves and just embracing who they are. Its great weve seen so many people take the responsibility of being that representation and if I can be that representation for young swimmers and athletes growing up then Ive definitely done my job."

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