Ari-Pekka Liukkonen

Ari-Pekka Liukkonen

Another international sportsman has come out as gay, this time to take a stand against Russia’s anti-gay legislation.

Finnish Olympic swimmer Ari-Pekka Liukkonen has revealed that he is gay just days ahead of the Winter Olympic Games in the Russian city of Sochi.

“I wanted to start a broader discussion in connection with Sochi, because it’s sad that the legislation in Russia restricts the human rights of young people and others,” Liukkonen told Yle.

He admitted that coming to grips with his sexuality when growing up was a challenge. “As the matter wasn’t discussed, I tried to forget about it, but during high school I began to accept that I am made this way,” Liukkonen said.

He added: “Acceptance hasn’t necessarily been easy, but it hasn’t been horribly difficult either. This has been a long, slow process for me, but now I’m there.”

Liukkonen said that he hoped that one day being an openly gay athlete would not be newsworthy. “In the future I would hope that elite athletes and other people will not find homosexuality to be any kind of news.

“Homosexuality is the same kind of characteristic as whether a person has blue or brown eyes, or whether they are left- or right-handed,” he said.

Liukkonen, who has struggled with ill-health over the last two years, is now training for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. He previously competed in the 2012 Olympic Games and won a bronze medal in the 4x50m mixed freestyle relay at the European Championships that same year.

He is the Finnish record holder in the 50m freestyle and the first active athlete to come out as gay in Finland.

In January, top Brazilian diver Ian Matos revealed that he was inspired by British Olympic diver Tom Daley’s December 2013 coming out video to open up about his homosexuality.

Also last month, Thomas Hitzlsperger, the recently retired German footballer, revealed that he is gay.

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