The Tokyo 2020 Olympics will feature more than 160 openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer competitors, making it the most inclusive Olympics ever.
This has focused attention on the host country, Japan, which activists claim is behind the times in comparison to the rest of the globe, having not experienced the same sweeping social shift that has made same-sex marriage and broader inclusiveness a reality in many nations.
Fumino Sugiyama, a 39-year-old former Japanese national team fencer and transgender campaigner, said he was pleased to witness the Games' improvement in terms of diversity. When he was younger, sports were drastically different, and racist language was frequent, he claimed. Sugiyama began fencing at the age of 10, climbing through the ranks and finally playing for the Japanese women's team on an international level. He felt torn about competing as a woman and retired at the age of 25.
While Japan is famed for its robust civil society and democracy, rights campaigners say the country still has a long way to go in terms of tackling issues relating to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders, and queers (LGBTQ).
The Olympic charter prohibits discrimination, and while Tokyo passed an anti-discrimination law three years ago, much of the rest of the country lacks the same legal protections.
Rights campaigners are hoping to utilise the Games to boost public awareness and support for LGBTQ+ concerns.
Gon Matsunaka, founder of Japan’s first LGBTQ+ center, Pride House told a publication, ““I think lots of people in the world think that Japan is the human rights defender, but it’s opposite, because we don’t have any marriage equality, we don’t have any law to ban discrimination on sexual orientation or gender identity.”
The message is also being sent to Japan by foreign teams. Nike Lorenz, the captain of the German women's hockey team, will wear a rainbow-colored captain's armband to all of her games to show support for LGBTQ+ populations, according to the German Olympic Sports Confederation. It claimed the International Olympic Committee had granted its request for Lorenz to wear the armband, as Germany's national soccer team captain Manuel Neuer did last month at Euro 2020.
Sugiyama, who also organises the city's annual pride march, was named to the Japanese Olympic Committee for the first time as a transgender person. “Being excluded from the sports world is the same as being excluded from society,” he continued, “so I believe it is critical to seize this chance to firmly lead to positive discussions.”