Happy Pride everyone! Today Pride celebrations take over London. You’ll be spotting a few of us from Prism Sport + Entertainment supporting the march.
There is so much to celebrate, so much progress we as society have made for the LGBTQ+ communities.
However, being a sports and entertainment agency, we are all too familiar with the huge amount of progress that still has to happen in sports culture.
Out on the Fields, a 2016 international survey of 9494 people, all varying in sexualities and demographics, highlighted just how much further we need to go.
Startlingly, only 1% of the respondents think that LGB people are completely accepted in sporting culture. Homophobic abuse is a dark stain on sport, which is known by essentially all of those involved.
On-top of this, 80% of all respondents have personally witnessed or experienced homophobia in sport.
This is often dismissed as ‘banter’ or ‘jokes’, however it can have serious consequences on LGBTQ+ individuals who try to engage in sports.
81% of gay men, and 74% of lesbians under 22, were completely or partially in the closet while playing youth sports. This shows that for the majority of LGB individuals, sports was not a safe environment for them to be out, and themselves.
Where are the sporting role models for Generation Z?
Another big issue in sporting culture, is the lack of role models for LGBTQ+ youths.
Our own JWT report from 2016, found that less than half (48%) of Gen Zers (13-20) identify as completely heterosexual.
This is a marked generational swing when you compare it to Millennials (21-34), where 65% identify as completely heterosexual.
Let’s put this into sporting context. The Premier League has no out male players, at all.
At the Summer Olympics in Rio, 56 out of 11,544 athletes were openly LGBTQ+.That’s only 0.5%.
Of 2,952 Winter Olympians in PyeongChang only 15 were out. Again, thats just 0.5%.
Not even one percent of Olympians are out. More than half of Gen Zers are.
This means that there are twenty more LGBTQ+ role models in films than there are in the Olympics.
Another point would be that a large percentage of LGBTQ+ characters in television and film are constantly connected to drugs, HIV, and mental health – but that’s another article.
Kids who grow up without any positive LGBTQ+ role models may be put off engaging with sport – especially when they are almost guaranteed abuse towards their sexuality – or have to live in the closet.
A common misunderstanding of the situation is “what if there just aren’t any LGBTQ+ athletes to come out?”.
Aside from evidence that around 80% of LGB men and women were partially or completely in the closet across all youth sports.
Professional sports are no different; let’s look at football:
Last year an ex-club boss revealed that at least 20 Premier league players were gay, but afraid to come out.
Homophobic rhetoric is ever present at high level football games – from opposition players, to club bosses, to agents, to fans, and even teammates.
Success in sport requires total commitment, whether it be an individual sport or in a team, which is only as good as the sum of its parts.
Is total commitment possible when one is holding something back? As an allegory for life in business, we’ve learned that fostering an environment of acceptance, which doesn’t tolerate discrimination regarding sexual orientation, creates a stronger foundation for our team’s performance.
The world of sport has miles to go before that atmosphere of acceptance can be achieved.
We believe that stakeholders in sport – athletes, clubs, governing bodies and sponsors etc. all have the opportunity to contribute to change, so that in future, sport becomes a better societal role model.
There needs to be more open discussions. More research. More consequences to homophobia. More inclusion. More safe spaces. We believe there should be more change in the changing rooms.
While sporting administrations and organisations may not be doing enough. New groups are leading cultural and systematic changes in LGBTQ+ attitudes in sport.
We leave you with a few examples:
Kick it Out
While working with other organisations, Kick it Out have an area of their work under ‘LGBT+ in Football’. By consulting individuals and organisations, they create a support network for LGBTQ+ issues.
With the launch of their Rainbow Laces, last year alone, they have distributed 75,313 pairs to sports fans, platers, referees, and officials. Rainbow laces were made to show LGBTQ+ players that their teammates accept them for who they are. Change from within.
Started in 1982, the Gay Games is a worldwide sporting evening that promotes LGBTQ+ athletes and artists. It retains similarities to The Olympics, where countries bid to host the games and a torch is lit at the start, but inclusion is the core difference.