The first international study on homophobia in sport is set to shine a light on how often gay, lesbian and bisexual people face discrimination on and off the playing field. The study, called “Out on the Fields,” has been launched in the lead-up to the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) on May 17. Sporting culture is often considered one of the last places in Western society where discrimination based on sexuality is still common.
The study will look at the prevalence and forms of homophobia in Ireland, the UK and other countries, among athletes and fans, and allow researchers to compare sporting culture in the UK with other Western countries such as the United States and Australia. It is being conducted pro-bono by international sports market research firm Repucom, in partnership with academics at six international universities and a range of other organisations.
Welsh Rugby legend Gareth Thomas, who came out in 2009, is one of many well-known gay and lesbian athletes encouraging people to take part:
“Many athletes around the world fear they won’t be accepted by their teammates and others if they are honest about their sexuality. I was one of those athletes and I wish, at the time, I understood how many other people were experiencing the same thing.”
“We need to change sporting culture so that sexuality is no longer an issue and sport is welcoming and accepting to everyone. I strongly encourage people to participate in this study and share their stories, good or bad, so that we can gain a better understanding of the experiences of athletes around the world,” said Thomas.
The study will focus primarily on comparing the UK, Ireland, Australia, Canada, USA and New Zealand, however, people from any country can participate, regardless of their sexuality. This will help researchers understand the differences of perspective around homophobia between GLBT and ‘straight’ people.
The study will look at questions including:
- What forms of homophobia athletes/fans witness or experience, and how often? – How many athletes stay in the closet and why?
- Which sporting environments are seen as the most unsafe/unwelcoming for LGBT people (including athletes and fans)?
“There has been a lot of discussion about homophobia in sport, particularly in the past year. This historic research will help us move beyond the stories and anecdotes we hear and help us collect some hard, international numbers around the experiences of same-sex attracted athletes,” says Professor Ian Rivers, from London’s Brunel University, one of seven international experts involved.
“We’ll also be able to compare […] English-speaking countries [with each other] to see how well we are addressing this issue. The goal is to ensure that sports are welcoming and inclusive to everyone, whether watching or playing, regardless of sexuality.”
The international study was initiated by organisers of the Bingham Cup Sydney 2014, the world cup of gay rugby. They approached the world’s leading experts on homophobia in sport who have donated their time pro bono, because of the need for such research. The experts are from Brunel University (London), Pennsylvania State University, University of Massachusetts, Laval University and University of Winnipeg (Canada) and Victoria University (Australia).
Previous research has been based primarily on mostly local or national qualitative studies, while this is the first large scale quantitative study. The results will be collated and analysed by Repucom, and then reviewed by the team of academics, with a final report released prior to the Bingham Cup tournament at the end of August this year.
Andrew Purchas is an openly gay rugby player who has played in the USA and Australia, and is President of the Bingham Cup Sydney 2014. He said: “I am often asked by media, governments and others about the prevalence of homophobia in sports, such as insults and abuse, particularly in very masculine team sports such as American football, or rugby. Anecdotally, we know that homophobia is unfortunately very common and is the reason for people stopping playing and being involved in sport.”
“Sport has been left behind by most others aspects of western society if dealing with homophobia. However we don’t know how wide spread the problem is since there has been very little large-scale research on the issue. We want to ensure homophobia in sport no longer remains hidden or ignored and sports become inclusive and welcoming for all, whether playing amateur or professional or participating as a spectator or official.”
Those interested in participating are asked to visit outonthefields.com to take a short survey. The study is open to everyone regardless of sexuality.