Belgian tennis players Alison van Uytvanck and Greet Minnen, the first gay couple to play doubles at Wimbledon, have urged those in the world of tennis to step up their backing of LGBTIQ+ players, suggesting that male players in particular have trouble coming out.
Speaking at a press conference following a straight-sets victory over British pair Katie Swann and Freya Christie on Wednesday, Van Uytvanck said: “We [would like to] see more people coming forward and saying ‘It’s OK.’ I think people would have more confidence."
“That would be something good, men would appreciate that. More people would come out – it would help to make it easier,” she continued, reports The Guardian.
Van Uytvanck, who is ranked 59th as a singles player, added: “There must be some gay men [actively playing] out there. For me personally, [if I were] a man, it [the lack of representation] would be more difficult to come out.”
She speculated that, given the lack of previous representation in the sport, men might fear loss of sponsorship opportunities or community backlash. Only one male player, Brian Vahaly, has come out as gay since the mid-1900's - and even he only did so in 2017, a decade after announcing his retirement.
Despite being open about their relationship on social media, the pair admitted that playing tennis around the world sometimes meant being less forthright.
“For sure, we are not going to hold hands if we are in Egypt or somewhere,” Minnen said. "When you are in the tournament it is fine, but if you go to the centre, not everywhere do they accept it."
Van Uytvanck, who faces Australia's very own Ashleigh Barty today, said she hoped the pair's openness marked a step forward for the sport, particularly for men.
“Women are coming out more easily than men," she said.
"I hope we are something that people can look up to, like a role model to come out.”