Where’s the pride in sport?

Sydney University Sport and Fitness should get a little bit gayer

A 2015 study found that 80 per cent of Australians had faced or seen homophobia while participating in sport. Yet we often ignore the question of LGBTI inclusion in sport. It’s an important issue—even here, at a University that trades on its progressivism. So it’s time we took the conversation onto the field.

That same 2015 study, called Out on the Fields (ONTF), also found that the majority of Australian LGB respondents played sport. But when it came to gay men, 22 per cent did not play youth league team sport, citing bad experiences in their school PE class (43 per cent) and fear of rejection because of their sexuality (36 per cent). And tellingly, 75 per cent of Australians thought an openly LGB person would not be very safe watching a sporting event. When it comes to USyd, most sports programs fall under the Sydney Uni Sport and Fitness (SUSF), an umbrella body that provides funding and facilities for university students. SUSF binds its athletes to its Sporting Code of Conduct (SCOC), a document which sets out expected behaviour standards.

The SCOC prohibits harassment and discrimination especially on the grounds of gender, ethnic origin, religion, cultural background and ability. In general, it commits SUSF to “the highest standards” of conduct in athletic, personal and professional life.

But the SCOC does not explicitly address LGBTI inclusion. There are no mentions of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

This is not to say that sports groups at USyd have done nothing on LGBTI inclusion. The SUSF 2017 annual report describes a charity league run by the Growthbuilt Sydney University Australian National Football Club (SUANFC).

The competition, called Pride Round, raised $4000 for Beyond Blue. SUANFC held Pride Round again this year, raising funds for Headspace Camperdown. President of the Sydney University Women’s AFL Club, Olivia Warren, who supported Pride Round, said that the competition “is an important celebration of the diversity of not only our club, but also our community”.

However, apart from this, SUSF and its associated clubs seem to have done little else to promote LGBTI inclusion. A national inclusion programme, Pride in Sport Australia, invites sports leagues to participate in its initiatives and membership program. Pride in Sport’s main project is the Pride in Sport Index, which seeks to measure LGBTI inclusion in different sports. But so far, Melbourne University Sport is the only university sports member. SUSF has not yet signed up. Clearly, there is a lot our University’s main sports programme could be doing that it is not.

In 2014, The Anti-Homophobia & Inclusion Framework For Australian Sports was published, a joint project between various human rights and sporting organisations including the Australian Sports Commission, Cricket Australia, the Australian Rugby League, the AFL, FFA and the NRL. The framework consists of six pillars, including a focus on club training, a sanctions policy, and community group partnerships.

There is strong support for a national framework, according to ONTF, the authors of the 2015 study. Their report recommended that “national sporting organisations need to adopt and promote clear anti-homophobia and LGB inclusion policies for professional and amateur players.”

SUSF members have diverse views on whether SUSF needs to do more to promote inclusion. Hannah Meier who is a member of the USyd Cheerleading team said: “I believe SUSF would make accommodations for any individual who asked, but outside of that exception, I don’t think it should be any more relevant to sport than eye colour is.” But on the other hand, Alex Buist, who does circus aerials classes at the Ledge, was less positive: when asked whether SUSF needed to do more to promote inclusion, the answer was frank: “Yes, they should.” So what could SUSF do to improve? A start would be to update their SCOC to include specific protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status and they could participate in the Pride in Sport Index. Sport is for everyone, and the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ attitude which has plagued professional sports needs to stop. SUSF has ample opportunity to combat this attitude and to be a leader in promoting inclusion.