Homophobic bullying is rife in Scottish sports, from grassroots to elite levels, with the government taking ‘little or no specific action’ to tackle anti-gay prejudices, according to a scathing report released today.
The report, compiled by the government-funded Equality Network, and seen by the Scotsman newspaper, alleges that deep anti-gay prejudices exist at all levels of sport in the country, and from sporting grounds and changing rooms to playing fields, with no active intervention by the government.
It also suggests that high-profile sports personalities, such as Graeme Obree and Gareth Thomas, coming out, though welcome and much-needed, have done little to persuade other sportspeople to be open or comfortable about their sexuality. It refers to the comments made by Mr Obree, warning fellow athletes to stay in the closet.
The authors of the report also call for the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, which it asks to be implemented immediately and ‘robustly,’ with the aim of eradicating bigotry from sport. The government will also be urged to review a law on threatening messages being sent online, so that homophobic insults will be treated on par with racism and other sectarian abuse.
The sport most plagued by homophobic prejudice is football, followed by rugby, boxing and then athletics.
The report will be officially launched at Murrayfield, the home of Scottish rugby later this month, and will be accompanied by the results of an online survey of 1,272 Scots, suggesting that 77% of the population believes that there exist deep homophobic attitudes, with almost the same number expressing the need for a high-profile campaign to tackle it. About 47% of those polled said they had witnessed homophobia in sport, with a third saying they had experienced it first-hand.
The main reason for the reluctance on the part of athletes to come out is fear of abuse from spectators, the survey finds.
The problem, however, begins at school: “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 reads.
In addition, there must be a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to homophobia at all levels of sport, with police and prosecutors able to deal with incidents quickly and robustly, the report argues.
Last night, Scottish Government’s sports minister, Shona Robinson, spoke to the Scotsman about the report: “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.”
The Scottish Football Association, meanwhile, insists that it is doing everything it can to make football more inclusive.