International Triathlon Union reverses rainbow flag ban after criticism from gay athletes

By Alistair MagowanBBC Sport
Jack Bristow
Jack Bristow carried a rainbow flag when he crossed the finish line at the International Triathlon Series event in Leeds last summer

The International Triathlon Union has reversed its decision to ban rainbow flags at events after criticism from gay athletes.

New rules had stipulated that athletes must "avoid any kind of demonstration of political, religious, sexual orientation or racial propaganda".

But the ITU said the new rule, agreed in November, was a "misunderstanding" and has now changed its policy.

The rule was to "protect athletes from demonstrations against them," it said.

Great Britain's Jack Bristow, who has represented his country in European age-group championships, said athletes were initially "confused and angry".

But after hearing the ITU's reasoning, he told BBC Sport: "Banning the flag 'for our own good' is not a good look. We know the risks and it should be our choice."

The 24-year-old carried a rainbow flag over the finish line at an international event in Leeds last year.

He added: "It wasn't really an issue beforehand, so I don't know why they introduced this rule and it seems to have backfired on them.

"But it's great they have responded so quickly and been prepared to listen to feedback.

"In the future, we'd like to see the ITU pledge to listen to triathletes from a diverse backgrounds before implanting rules like this so we can avoid unfortunate misunderstandings like this one."

The ITU said in a statement: "The change in the rule was aimed to protect our athletes and community from demonstrations against them.

"But we understand that the wording of this rule led to misunderstanding, so the Executive Board has decided to amend the rule and leave it as it was before the rules update."

How the story unfolded

Other than saying it was following protocol in other sports, the ITU had initially failed to provide a reason for the introduction of a new rule to BBC Sport.

In fact, rainbow flags are often displayed by LGBT athletes in other sports and there have been athletes wearing rainbow laces in football and rugby in recent years.

The ITU denied the move was connected to the first World Triathlon Series event of 2019 being held in Abu Dhabi, where homosexuality can be prosecuted.

Bristow added: "It was a misunderstanding on their part of what the rainbow flag means in this context. It's about LGBT athletes being visibly positive role models in the same way pioneering ethnic and female athletes are.

"You need a symbol like the rainbow flag to highlight it and it's important that LGBT people have those positive role models in sport because they are incredibly under-represented.

"The ITU can take a lead on this in a way that no other international organisation has yet. There's a good opportunity for the ITU to have a discussion and come up with a strategy."

Top Stories

Explore the BBC