Shiho Shimoyamada plays for SV Meppen, a second-tier team for the German Bundesliga. She is also the teams’ only openly lesbian player on the roster and has chosen to come out to help increase the visibility and representation of LGBT athletes, specifically in Japan. She hopes to increase representation and help normalize the LGBTI sports community in Japan by the 2020 Summer Olympic Games.

She was motivated after noticing the efforts of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic committees to promote diversity and encourage more lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in sports have been rather lackluster. In an interview with Asahi, she shared…

“You don’t see the face of a LGBT person,” she said. “It will be powerful if an actual LGBT athlete sends a message.” In referring to her encouraging others to come out she added, “Once you share your feelings with the company you keep, sports will become even more fun.”

Shimoyamada has received a lot of support from Pride House Tokyo which is a project to host a space as well as educational events, workshops, seminars and social events for LGBT athletes at the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. She says she always felt an attraction to women since high school and found that there were a lot of women in soccer who felt the same as she did which helped her affirm her sexual identity. Despite this, Shimoyamada decided not to reveal her sexual orientation to her teammates, choosing only to confide in close friends who accepted her unconditionally.

Upon signing on with SV Meppen, she found an accepting and normalizing culture within the team. In her interview she said her teammates were very mindful of sexual minorities, even without knowing if Shimoyamada was gay.  She stated…

“They don’t perceive a LGBT player as special. I can play just as a soccer player here, and I feel comfortable in such a relationship,” Shimoyamada said.

While the International Olympic Committee has ensured that sexual orientation is listed on the non-discrimination clause in the Olympic Charter since 2014. As well several international sports organziations have written guidelines to ensure inclusion of athletes regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Japan has yet to have any sports organizations make such a declaration themselves. That is something that Pride House Tokyo and Shimoyamada are hoping to change.

By Dirk Smith