Homophobia in sport

Published: 2017

One fifth of participants thought that school PE classes were the most likely homophobic sporting environment.

One fifth of participants thought that school PE classes were the most likely homophobic sporting environment.

1. According to government estimates, approximately 6% of the UK population is gay and yet homophobia in sport remains a serious issue in the UK.1 In 2012, the previous Culture, Media and Sport Committee undertook an inquiry into Racism in Football. A key conclusion of this report was that homophobia was emerging as a “bigger problem in football than racism and other forms of discrimination”.2 Research at the time found that 25% of fans thought that homophobia was present in football in comparison to 10% who thought that racism was present in the sport. Since the previous Committee’s report, further research has been undertaken into homophobia, including into sports other than football. 2. The ‘Out on the Fields’ study—the first international study into homophobia in sport—provided perhaps the most comprehensive study of the issue to date. This study, which was published in 2015, highlighted youth sports as a particular issue. The majority of survey participants (73%) did not believe that youth sports were a ‘supportive and safe’ place for Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual (LGB) participants. The UK was broadly in line with the international consensus on this, with 70% of UK respondents agreeing with this statement.3 Other concerning findings related to homophobic language and jokes heard within sport, with 84% of participants reporting hearing homophobic jokes and humour within sport4 and 49% of UK participants believing that, within sporting environments, homophobia is most likely to occur within spectator stands.5 These findings were underpinned by a recent BBC Radio 5 Live programme where it was reported that 8% of football fans surveyed would stop watching their team if they signed an openly gay player.6 Additionally, a recent Stonewall survey reported that 72% of football fans have heard homophobic abuse.7 Moreover, as we describe below, homophobic leaflets have been distributed, and homophobic chanting has taken place this season. The problem is not going away. 3. These findings are echoed in relation to sports other than football. One of the most high-profile instances involved rugby union referee Nigel Owens, who was the victim of homophobic abuse at a match in 2014.8 In diving, Tom Daley has had similar experiences, having received homophobic abuse on social media.9