HOMOPHOBIC bullying at all levels of Scottish sport has been revealed in a hard-hitting new study that calls for anti-bigotry laws to be used to help eradicate a “major problem”.
The report outlines a culture of homophobia from the grassroots to elite sporting levels, but accuses the Scottish Government and sporting governing bodies of taking “little or no specific action” to tackle the anti-gay prejudices that exist in the country’s sports grounds, changing rooms and playing fields.
Despite the courageous decisions taken by sporting role models such as the former Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas and the Scottish cycling champion Graeme Obree to “come out”, the report suggests that the threat of abuse means many homosexuals in Scottish sport feel they cannot be honest about their sexual orientation.
The report has been compiled by the government-funded Equality Network, which will launch its report at Murrayfield, the home of Scottish rugby later this month as part of a major new campaign to tackle homophobia. It describes the shocking extent of anti-homosexual abuse that prevents gay people from joining sports clubs, attending matches or fulfilling their sporting potential.
It will call for the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act – aimed at eradicating bigotry from the national sport – to be implemented “robustly” to eradicate homophobia. The government will be urged to review the law on threatening communications on the internet so that homophobic insults on the web can be dealt with in the same manner as sectarian abuse.
The sport seen to have the biggest problem with homophobia was football, followed by rugby, boxing and then athletics. The Scottish Football Association will also be asked to work with the gay community to crack down on the homophobic abuse shouted by spectators at matches.
Publication of the report will be accompanied by the results of an online survey of 1,272 Scots, which suggests that 77 per cent of the population believes there is a problem with anti-homosexual attitudes and 74 per cent believes their should be a high-profile campaign to tackle it.
In Scotland, 47 per cent of those surveyed said they had witnessed homophobia in sport. Of those who had witnessed homophobia, around a third said they had experienced it.
Abuse from spectators was cited as the main reason that so few elite athletes were openly homosexual, closely followed by potential damage to their career prospects and loss of earnings from sponsorships.
The report noted that there were no openly gay footballers in the Scottish Premier League, but added that there were openly homosexual elite athletes – mainly women – taking part in some other sports.
The Equality Network is a charity which receives Scottish Government funding to carry out its role as the national organisation fighting for gay rights. Its draft report – seen by Scotland on Sunday and titled Out for Sport, is based on interviews with men and women involved in Scottish sport including homosexuals and bisexuals, who speak about their own experiences of homophobia.
Concluding that homophobic bullying is a “major problem,” it calls for the Scottish Government and sports sector to demonstrate “visible leadership” on the issue.
The problem begins in schools, the report says. “The use of the word ‘gay’ to mean something that is negative is endemic within school sports and sports environments. This often goes unchallenged by teachers and coaches.”
The report suggests that sporting bodies are content to take positive action around equality in general, but there appears to be “hesitance” on taking action relating to sexual orientation or gender identity.
One SFA official, interviewed for the report, suggested that following the Show Racism the Red Card Campaign, football fans found it easy to recognise racist behaviour when it came to self-policing crowds. But, according to the official, fans found it more difficult to understand what constituted bigoted or homophobic behaviour.
The report recommends that governing bodies and clubs should visibly challenge homophobic behaviour by both participants and spectators. Coaches, PE teachers, sports clubs, development officers and others should develop a “zero tolerance” approach to homophobic abuse.
Police and prosecutors should also deal robustly with abuse in all sports where appropriate as a prejudice-aggravated breach of the peace or threatening behaviour.
Last night, the Scottish Government’s sports minister, Shona Robison, said: “Everyone should be able to participate in and enjoy sport – whoever they are and whatever their background.
“As we head towards the Olympics and Glasgow Commonwealth Games, this is the right time to ensure sport is fully inclusive to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. This research will be Scotland’s biggest to date on homophobia in sport and I will consider the report fully when it is published.”
Sporting bodies insisted that action was being taken to make their sports more inclusive. A spokesman for the SFA said: “We are in dialogue to find new ways of tackling homophobia in football and provide opportunities for all, regardless of race, ethnic origin, gender or sexual orientation.”