Commonwealth Games Australia alumni feature in the inaugural AIS Thrive with Pride program.
Fourteen athletes from 10 different sports are joining together as ambassadors for the inaugural AIS Thrive with Pride program, which aims to provide safe and inclusive sporting environments for all athletes to thrive.
Two-time Olympic diver Matthew Mitcham OAM says finding his “authentic self” was the catalyst to coming out of retirement and winning Olympic gold.
Former Australia Rugby Sevens captain, Gold Coast 2018 silver medallist and Olympic gold medallist Sharni Williams OAM says she was once a “human in the dark” until sport allowed her to find her true self.
Three-time Olympic water polo player Rowie Webster says she never been more motivated “to start the conversations I was too intimidated to start all those years ago.”
These are some of the experiences the ambassadors will be sharing with sporting communities as part of the Thrive with Pride program, which is being launched this year to enhance respectful, educated and inclusive communication in sporting environments. The AIS has also engaged the expertise of LGBTIQ+ and inclusion bodies Pride in Sport and Proud 2 Play.
AIS Acting CEO Matti Clements said the athlete ambassadors, which comprise LGBTIQ+ athletes and allies, were motivated to engage, educate and empower athletes at all levels to provide inclusive sporting environments.
“I want to thank these athlete ambassadors for putting their hands up to be the leaders for this program, because this has the potential to change lives and sporting environments for the better,” Clements said.
“They will be delivering presentations in sporting environments, endeavouring to build trust, foster change, promote inclusion and ensure every athlete across every sport has the opportunity to thrive as themselves.”
Matthew Mitcham says having the confidence to be his “authentic self” was critical to his life, then sporting success.
“Growing up gay and not feeling confident enough to be my authentic self within my training environment as a teenager prevented me from really bringing my full self to training,” Mitcham said.
“Finding myself in a squad where I felt comfortable enough to be myself had the most profound effect on my self-esteem and allowed me to be fully present like never before,” Mitcham said.
“This was a catalyst that took me from retired to Olympic champion in 15 months before the Beijing Olympic Games, which is why I am so passionate about creating open, inclusive environments to nurture optimum performance.”
Three-time Olympian Rowie Webster says she had to overcome a lack of confidence early in her career, unable to see same-sex attracted role models that she felt connected with.
“I felt alone. The importance of creating a safe environment for all athletes and support staff to feel safe and accepted as their authentic self is something I prioritise now more than ever. I am extremely honoured to be a Thrive with Pride Ambassador to start the conversations I was too intimidated to start all those years ago. ”
Australian Rugby 7s gold medallist Sharni Williams said sport had enabled her to thrive.
“Sport is such a powerful vehicle for finding who you are and what you are capable of; and it has enabled me to be visible in my community living the life I was given to live and loving the person I want to love. I want this for others … I want to help create normality and help educate our sporting world and this program has the opportunity to do this, one sport at a time.”
Non-binary shot-putter Maria Strong made their Paralympic debut on Tokyo last year, taking bronze.
Strong has bigger ambitions for sport. “I grew up queer, autistic and physically disabled, with unusual interests and a difficult-to pronounce foreign surname,” Strong said. “For as long as I can remember, I have been driven to make the world a better, more inclusive place.”
Canoe slalom athlete Noemie Fox is an ambassador and ally: “Having informed, vocal and visible LGBTIQ+ allies is key to developing inclusive environments within our sporting communities and empowering all athletes, staff and community members to be their authentic selves!”
Thrive with Pride Ambassadors
Matthew Mitcham, Diving, NSW Institute of Sport
Rowie Webster, Water polo, Victorian Institute of Sport
Nikki Ayers, Rowing, ACT Academy of Sport
Alexandra Viney, Rowing, Victorian Institute of Sport
Kerrie Rosemond (nee Meares), Cycling, Queensland Academy of Sport
Gracie Elvin, Cycling, ACT Academy of Sport
Maria Strong, Athletics, Victorian Institute of Sport
Katerina Paul, Snow, Victorian Institute of Sport
Heath Thorpe, Gymnastics, Western Australian Institute of Sport
Noemie Fox, Paddle, NSW Institute of Sport
Sharni Williams, Rugby Sevens, NSW Institute of Sport
Dominic Clarke, Gymnastics, NSW Institute of Sport
Katrina Bateman, Rowing, Victorian Institute of Sport
Katarina Kowplos, Shooting, South Australian Sport Institute