- Researcher says homophobic slurs are used as “banter” on the sporting field
- Study finds heterosexual players are impacted as much as homosexual and bisexual players
- An Adelaide-based rugby team is working to stamp it out of their sport
A study of 350 rugby and cricket players in South Australia and Victoria also found that three quarters of people had heard homophobic slurs in the past two weeks.
The project’s lead researcher Erik Denison — also a sports inclusion researcher at Monash University — said he was shocked to find the players were not using terms like “fag” and “poof” because they were homophobic.
“I think, like a lot of people, I thought sport was filled with homophobes — but what we found was the opposite,” he said.
“This homophobic language is just thoughtless, it’s used as banter … it’s a way of bullying, it’s a really effective tool of getting a competitive edge on someone.”
“The fact that they have no malice towards gay people, that they’re just using this language thoughtlessly, that gives us a lot of hope that change is possible.”
As sporting clubs drop the ball on calling out homophobic language, evidence suggests it is still a major reason some young people quit a sport they once loved.
“Sports need to catch up to the rest of society and a key way to do that is stop this banter, stop this homophobic language, stop the sexist language because we want people to play sport,” Mr Denison said.
“I was one of those gay kids who got abused and I played sport up until Year 10 and then I was outed by someone and the homophobic abuse started almost the next day.
“But no research has examined how do we change that language, how do we stop that language.”
So, Mr Denison quit his job in public health care to undertake this research to help “kids like him” enjoy sport rather than find it “painful”.
In his latest research, which was unveiled at a sport management conference in Adelaide on Thursday, he found people continued to use homophobic slurs because other players did, and no-one had called them out on it.
He found the regular use of homophobic slurs negatively impacted heterosexual players as much as homosexual and bisexual players.
Given no player involved in the research supported the use of such language, Onkaparinga Rugby Union player Caleb Whitton couldn’t understand why he still heard homophobic slurs at every match he played.
As captain of his under-18s team, he said it was something he was actively working to stamp out.
“I have seen people get upset by it before whether it is because they’re homosexual or they don’t want people to think they’re homosexual, particularly in the younger teams,” he said.
“Most referees do look at (racial slurs) but it’s not often you’d see a player be picked up for a penalty for saying some sort of homosexual slur.”
“Rugby’s such a fun sport, I love playing, so I couldn’t think of someone coming particularly to this club and thinking they can’t be accepted just because they’re gay or anything else.”
He said people would be called out and penalised for using racist slurs on the field, but he had never seen anyone disciplined for using homophobic language.
He said tougher penalties should be introduced for homophobic slurs too and he encouraged other captains and team managers to sit down with players at the start of each season to discuss the harm homophobic language causes — and discipline players if they use such slurs on or off the field.