SYDNEY, May 10- Only one percent of people feel that gays are “completely accepted” on the sporting field, while others have been subject to verbal and physical abuse for being homosexual, a new international survey said Sunday.
Close to 9,500 people were interviewed for the “Out on the Fields” study, with respondents mostly from Australia, Britain, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and the United States.
“Even in the most promising countries, such as Canada, discrimination and homophobia were still widely experienced by both LGB and straight participants,” it said.
Some 19 percent of gay men and nine percent of lesbians surveyed said they had been “physically assaulted”, while 27 percent of gay men and 16 percent of lesbians said they were subject to verbal threats of harm.
About 54 percent of gay men, 48 percent of lesbians and 28 percent of straight men said they had experienced homophobia.
Australian sports officials vowed to tackle the issue, after the survey — initiated by the Sydney organising committee of a gay rugby event — found few positive signs that lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people were welcome playing team sports.
The participants were from all sexualities, with nearly 25 percent saying they were heterosexual.
Respondents were largely unanimous in the view that spectator stands were not accepting of gay people.
About 78 percent said they believed LGB people would not be “very safe” if they visibly displayed their sexuality, for example by showing affection to each other.
Participants in the survey also said sporting homophobia was most likely to occur in spectator stands (41 percent) and school sports classes (21 percent).
Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland said the study’s findings were concerning. He added that the cricket world, as well as other sports, was committed to combating the issue.
“The support of the study by Australian Cricket –- and sport more broadly –- shows we are eager to better understand homophobia in sport and take action against it,” Sutherland said in a statement.
“There is simply no place for homophobia in society -– and in particular sport -– and we are committed to eradicating it through better education and training at grassroots level.”
– ‘Hiding their identity’ –
Although not an academic study, the survey, which used data collected by sports market research firm Repucom, was reviewed by seven leading experts on homophobia in sport, including Caroline Symons from Melbourne’s Victoria University.
“Some LGB people can thrive in sport, but many others feel compelled to remain closeted to keep playing the sport they love, monitoring every word they say, to ensure they keep up the appearance of being heterosexual,” she said.
“All this effort to hide their identity can distract from enjoying their sport and improving their performance.”
Fellow Victoria University academic Grant O’Sullivan said casual homophobic language such as jokes heard on the playing fields, or in locker rooms sent a message at odds with inclusiveness.
“Often this language is not meant to be hurtful but can be very damaging when heard by those struggling with their sexuality,” he said.
O’Sullivan said of particular concern was the fact that the negative experience could start in school and had the potential to see gay people avoid sport for the rest of their lives.
Current LA Galaxy and former Leeds footballer Robbie Rogers, one of very few professional footballers to announce they are gay, said he hoped the study would spur change.
“This change can start with every athlete or fan who decides not to use homophobic language even if it’s meant as humour,” he said.