80% have witnessed or experienced homophobia in sports

Daniel Wren

A shocking study of straight and LGB people finds the majority (80%) of people have witnessed or experienced homophobia in sports culture.

In a survey of over 9,500 commissioned by Bingham Cup Sydney 2014, in partnership with LGBT groups and the Federation of Gay Games, sports researchers Repucom asked people about homophobia in sport. Their results, published as the Out on the Fields report, was reviewed by academic experts from six universitie: University of Victoria (Australia), Brunel University London (UK), The University of Winnipeg and Laval University (Canada), Pennsylvania State University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst (USA).

Straight respondents were surveyed, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people about their own experiences and the things they had seen in sport of all kinds. Data came from the US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland.

Among the findings, it was revealed that a perceived culture of homophobia in sport excludes LGBT people at all levels. Although LGB people played a wide range of sports in their youth (defined as being under 22), 62% of all participants thought homophobia was more prevalent in team sports than in society at large – and this rose to 73% among the gay men surveyed.

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46% of all participants also thought LGB people were either ‘not accepted at all’ or only ‘accepted a little’ in sport, and this rose to 54% among those gay men surveyed.

27% of gay men didn’t play youth team sports because of negative experiences in PE classes (44%) or because they anticipated they would be rejected because of their sexuality (31%).

54% of all gay men, 48% of lesbians and 28% of straight men had personally experienced homophobia. An astonishing 84% of gay men and 83% of lesbians had received verbal abuse using homophobic slurs. Meanwhile, 35% of gay men and 18% of lesbians had been bullied.

27% of gay men and 16% of lesbians had received verbal threats, while 19% of gay men and 9% of lesbians had been physically assaulted.

73% of all participants felt youth sports teams were particularly unwelcoming or unsafe for LGB people – which was a sentiment agreed across all genders, sexualities and age ranges.

In Australia, 81% of gay and 74% of lesbian young people under 22 said they were at least partially in the closet, and kept their sexuality a secret from some or all of their teammates. The reasons given included that they feared being bullied (49% of gay youth and 25% of lesbians), or that they feared discrimination from coaches and officials (32% of gay youth and 14% of lesbians). 45% of gay youth and 50% of lesbians were worried about rejection by their teammates.

More surprisingly, 66% of participants also thought LGB spectators wouldn’t be safe at sporting events, with spectator stands (41%) and PE classes (28%) being the most likely locations for homophobia to occur.

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Twice as many young participants were likely to be out in the UK, however – with 22% of those surveyed being out to their entire teams. The UK also did better when it came to barriers to engagement with PE classes compared to other countries – suggesting that campaigns by Schools OUT (such as LGBT History Month) and Stonewall, plus the repeal of Section 28, have had a positive impact but that more work is still needed.

Participants were also surveyed on their ideas for addressing these perceptions, and three solutions were selected:

1. Start early with schools, coaches and parents taking homophobia and bullying seriously in sporting environments;
2. National sporting organisations need to adopt and promote clear anti-homophobia and LGB inclusion policies for professional and amateur players;
3. More LGB professional sporting stars (such as Tom Daley, Ian Thorpe and Gareth Thomas) should set an example by coming out of the closet.

A panel of academic experts meanwhile suggested that the lack of training in supporting LGB athletes and addressing homophobia among coachees, PE teachers and sports officials needed to be addressed. They also recommended that team, schools and sports organisations needed to adopt a zero tolerance approach (both for players and fans) towards homophobic behaviour.

You can read the full results of the survey online.

About Daniel Wren

Vada Magazine staff writer. Interested in travel, news, politics and dating.