Q&A With Irish Olympian Ciarán Ó Lionáird

Photo by Simon Q.  License available here

Irish track and field Olympian, Ciarán Ó Lionáird, recently took part in a Q&A with Athlete Ally. Here are his thoughts:

As a runner, you compete internationally all the time and meet athletes from around the world. On the whole, do you think runners are more or less accepting of the LGBT community than in other sports?

“I think that at least from my experiences competing around the world, I would say that track athletes are maybe more openly accepting of the LGBT community than other sports, though for me to generalize the attitudes of specific sports beyond open expression would be unfair.

Certainly, in some team sports, there has been less tendency or ability for athletes to speak out on an issue as opposed to individual sportspeople in the past, but I see that changing now. You have athletes from all types of sports speaking out in support of the LGBT community, irrespective of locker room pressure or perceived response.

In track, we perhaps have more flexibility to be outspoken in our views on occasion but the fact that it is the voice of intolerance that is now typically the outspoken one shows that athletes from all sports have helped contribute to a changing and positive attitude towards the LGBT community.”

You’re from Ireland but have spent most of your athletic life in the United States with scholarships at Michigan and Florida State. How were your views on the LGBT community impacted by your college years in the States?

“Moving from a dairy farm in rural West Cork in Ireland to Ann Arbor, MI and then to Tallahassee, FL and now Eugene, OR has broadened my mind on a whole range of issues. You encounter people from different countries, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations and beyond. I’ve witnessed inequalities and intolerance that I perhaps would not have seen back in Ireland. As an atheist, I found myself in the minority in a place like Tallahassee. I would say I have become more educated about people from all different walks of life through living in the US and that notion encompasses the LGBT community also. I’m fortunate to have viewed the contrasts within the US geographically, for better or worse and will hopefully continue to learn! I have made some great friends in the LGBT community who have taken my experiences beyond that of the anecdotal and made them more personal. I consider myself fortunate to know them.”

How would you describe the attitudes towards the LGBTQ community in Ireland?

“I think attitudes in Ireland have really shifted. This past summer, I was in Dublin and there was huge rally in support of the LGBT community in bars and restaurants that would not have been considered ‘alternative’. You could see pubs that served as the cornerstone of the Irish social scene for many years embracing the LGBT community and that was terrific to witness. Of course, wherever you have larger cities with diversity and higher education, you will see more people embrace those of different backgrounds and orientations, but I’m hoping there is a knock on effect and rural Ireland and the sporting community will step up and show similar support. I hope to help enable that in any way I can.”

What unique role do athletes have in impacting change on this front whether in Ireland, the United States or anywhere in the world?

“Athletes have a very important role to play in impacting change, whether it’s in Ireland, the USA or anywhere in the World. Young kids dream of emulating their favorite athletes. They dream of competing like them but also I’m sure they picture behaving like them and carrying themselves in a similar manner. We are role models for so many and as such we need to look at not just how we compete but at the values we hold too with respect to equality.

Sport also has such a valuable part to play in keeping young people healthy. With the distractions of video games, smartphones and such, it is becoming more difficult to attract young people to an active lifestyle. Not embracing and supporting the LGBT community could serve to marginalize and deter young kids of every orientation from getting involved in sport which could have a further knock on their health effects. We need to continue to strive to be more inclusive and as athletes, we are the ones in the spotlight and thus need to lead with our attitudes.”