Leicester expert provides research to House of Commons on homophobia in sport

A University expert from the Department of Media, Communications and Sociology has given evidence to a House of Commons Select Committee as part of efforts to address homophobia in sport.

Dr Ian Somerville (pictured) joined Dr David Mitchell from Trinity College Dublin and Professor Owen Hargie from Ulster University in submitting their research on public perceptions on the key issues relating to sport and social exclusion in Northern Ireland to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s ‘Homophobia in Sport Enquiry’.

The Committee’s report, published in February, calls for sports authorities to adopt a zero tolerance approach to homophobic abuse at all levels of sport, including options such as lengthy stadium bans.

In their written evidence the researchers draw upon responses from the general public and LGBT populations in Northern Ireland, originally published in their report Social Exclusion and Sport in Northern Ireland, on questions about the profile of gay sportspeople, tackling homophobic abuse and transphobia in sport.

The recommendations from the researchers include:

  • Challenging negative attitudes towards LGBT people at all levels of society
  • It is important that young people’s experiences of sport in school are positive
  • The media must take account of how sports coverage may influence attitudes towards LGBT participants in sport
  • Sports Governance Bodies must consider whether their sports cultures are welcoming for LGBT participants
  • Authorities should consider the impact of changing room design on the participation of particular groups
  • LGB and transgender people must be made much more visible in publicly funded sports, health and wellbeing social marketing and advertising campaigns

Dr Ian Somerville said: “Our research found that from the level of elite sports down to school level those who deviate from a masculinity defined by heterosexuality and physical ability face rejection and exclusion. In particular the gendered nature of certain team sports can create a culture which is conducive to homophobia.

“Whether people continue to play sports in later life or whether they self-exclude is strongly influenced by their experience of school sports and by media representations.  Schools have a role to play in ensuring they organise and coach sports in a way that ensures respect for self and others and the media can help make sport a less intimidating domain by promoting LGBT role models.”

In 2012, the former Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report on racism in sport found that homophobia was emerging as a "bigger problem in football than racism and other forms of discrimination". Research at the time found that 25% of fans thought that homophobia was present in football, compared to 10% who thought that racism was. A recent Stonewall survey reported that 72% of football fans have heard homophobic abuse, and it is notable that there is not one 'out' footballer in the men’s professional game.