Javier Raya’s skills as a figure skater took him all the way to the Olympic stage, but as a child the ice provided more of an escape, offering the young Spaniard a “safe space” away from the taunts of classmates.
“When I was a kid, I suffered bullying and it is sport that helped me,” he explains. “Figure skating was not the common sport to choose, especially in Spain, but practising sport basically changed my life. Sport is where I found my safe space, surrounded by other athletes.”
Raya made public his sexual orientationin 2016, two years after competing at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014, and credits sport for helping him to feel more accepted.
“There’s still a lot to improve at different levels in our society, and especially when kids are younger, they are maybe not feeling welcome,” he says. “But when you are surrounded by other athletes, they are all very respectful, and you really see how everyone is motivating and helping each other. Once I was skating, I never suffered any kind of discrimination in my circles.”
Raya retired from competitive skating in 2018 and is now part of the International Olympic Committee’s Young Leaders programme – an initiative that provides, together with its Founding Partner Panasonic, budding social entrepreneurs with mentorship, learning opportunities and seed funding to launch projects that leverage the power of sport to make a positive difference in their communities.
Having experienced sport’s ability to foster inclusion and diversity, Raya was keen to focus on this issue with his own project, and so “Compete Proud” was born. This new digital platform will feature inspirational stories and experiences of LGBTQ+ athletes, while also providing supportive tools and resources to help make sport more diverse and inclusive.
“With this platform, I want to highlight athletes and their powerful experiences, so that through their stories they become role models to other athletes in a similar situation with the ultimate goal of competing proud,” explains Raya. “This term, being ‘proud’, is about being your true authentic self, both on and off the field of play. In sports, your race, your gender, your sexual orientation, should not matter, you should be able to be your true self.”
The platform’s resources section, meanwhile, features a wide selection of publications, reports, research and other tools to inform users and help them create workshops around diversity, equity and inclusion.
“Whether it is for a sports association, club or institution, these resources can provide the necessary tools to implement new strategies to be more inclusive,” explains Raya. “And that can be implemented at different levels in terms of whether it’s for a sporting club, or it’s more in terms of a strategy. Because this is basically a topic that, nowadays, many institutions are working on. So this educational side of the platform is focused on really making a change at different levels in the sporting world.”
With increasing numbers of athletes “competing proud” at the Olympic Games and other elite-level events, Raya believes that sharing and elevating their stories can help foster greater diversity and inclusion in other areas of society, while also providing inspiration for younger generations of LGBTQ+ athletes who may be going through similar experiences.
“At the last Olympic Games, there were more than 180 ‘out’ athletes who all have inspirational stories to share,” he says. “They can all guide and make a change for younger generations or other athletes who might be struggling. It’s important to send that message, that sport is a safe space that promotes respect and friendship. I think this is very powerful,” he adds. “On a larger scale, there is still a lot to do within sport in general, and so the idea is to bring this platform to a wider audience, because there are so many athletes who have powerful untold stories to share.”
Raya will be among the athletes sharing their experiences on Compete Proud. “Sharing my own personal story helped me, knowing that within the figure skating community I was not the only one,” he explains. “I was not alone.”
Hopefully thanks to Raya’s efforts through the launch of Compete Proud, more members of the LGBTQ+ community will also be able to see that they are not alone either.
Join us today at 19.00 CEST on Instagram @IOCyoungleaders for a live discussion with Javier Raya and two other Olympians and figure skaters, Kaitlyn Weaver and Eric Radford, about equality and inclusion and how sport contributes to this goal.
The IOC Young Leaders Programme
Launched in 2016, the IOC Young Leaders Programme empowers young people to leverage the power of sport to make a positive difference in their communities. So far, with the support of seed funding from the IOC and a network of mentors, these inspiring young people have delivered over 116 sport-led projects in communities across the globe, promoting themes such as education, social inclusion, sustainability and well-being, directly benefitting more than 30,000 people.
As a founding partner, Panasonic has supported the IOC Young Leaders Programme since 2017 and continues to do so by providing both additional funding to be used as grants and for audio-visual equipment, and by producing impactful storytelling that promotes the programme and the Young Leaders themselves.
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