(Reuters) – Ian Roberts, the first elite rugby league player to come out as gay, said Australian sport had not done enough to stop homophobia, as studies on Wednesday highlighted the level of discrimination faced by young LGBT+ athletes.
Two Monash University studies found most LGB athletes were unwilling to reveal their sexuality to team mates, while more than half of male gay athletes had been the target of homophobic behaviour.
Australian rugby league international, Roberts, who came out in 1995, said the findings showed the country’s top sports federations had made “empty promises”, when they signed a formal commitment to eliminate homophobia in 2014.
“It has been a quarter-century, I hate to think about that, but truly it has been a quarter-century since I came out,” the 55-year-old said on Wednesday.
“Yet it seems nothing is changing.
“I’m getting very frustrated by the lack of action on this issue and all the empty promises. I can’t tell you how many sport CEOs and board members have told me they think ending homophobia in sport is important and they want to help.
“They received a lot of great media attention (in 2014) but they clearly have not followed through on their commitments.”
One of the Monash studies found 82% of male and 77% of female LGB athletes tried to hide their sexuality from at least some of their team mates, in survey responses from more than 1,000 LGB youths in the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland.
Just 20% had come out to everyone on their team.
The study showed 52% of males and 36% of females reported being the target of homophobic behaviour in team settings.
Those who came out to any of their team mates were “significantly more likely to report being the target of homophobic behaviours”, the study said.
The second study surveyed teenage male players at six Australian rugby union clubs, and an international sample of players at top local ice hockey teams, about the use of homophobic language in a two-week period in their teams.
More than half the players (53.8%) self-reported using homophobic slurs, and most (69%) reported their team mates had used homophobic language.
The study found athletes with positive attitudes towards gay people were just as likely as those with negative attitudes to regularly use homophobic slurs.
“This language was driven by conformity and a desire to be socially accepted by team mates,” it said.
Few high-profile sportsmen have come out in Australia, and there have been none in the country’s popular indigenous sport, Australian Rules football.
Former Wallabies prop, Dan Palmer, became the first Australian rugby union international to come out in October, and wrote in a newspaper column that he had battled mental health issues and drug problems, while coming to terms with his sexuality.
“Young kids are taking their lives simply for who they are – we cannot accept this,” Palmer said on Wednesday in response to the studies.
“Captains and coaches need to stop accepting homophobic slurs and work to create an environment that people want to be a part of.”
The studies recommended sports leagues focus on supporting the adoption of “pride games” by all amateur teams, not just professional outfits, and train captains to set behavioural standards.
“Sport leaders need to focus on fixing the culture in their sport … rather than blaming the problem on the individual attitudes of athletes,” said lead researcher Erik Denison.