sexual harassment and abuse in sport

What is homophobia?

Homophobia is the unfounded fear of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people                          

What does homophobic behaviour look like?

Slurs, jokes, insults and even physical attacks based on someone’s perceived sexual orientation

How does homophobia affect you as an athletes (individual and team)?

- It can cause a loss of confidence and lead to you under-performing
- If it is not tackled it can damage team or squad cohesion
- It can negatively impact your psychological health potentially causing anxiety, depression, substance abuse or self harm behaviours  

Case study « Jack »

Jack is an 18 yr old swimmer who is in his last year of high school. He is a butterfly swimmer who excels at the 200m event, holding the national record in his age category.  Younger swimmers look up to Jack admiring his success in the pool.  Jack also excels in his academic studies: he is the top of his class, he has been on the school student council for the past two years, and every year he leads a group of students in a volunteer project at the local homeless shelter. He has a supportive family who are proud of his sports accomplishments.  His father was an elite professional basketball player.  His team mates start to question why Jack does not have a girlfriend.

Secretly Jack is struggling with his sexual orientation.  He is increasingly becoming aware that he is attracted to other boys.  This is creating anxiety for him and he begins to isolate himself. One day at school, one of the football players calls Jack “gay boy”.  His school mates laugh at him.  He can hardly wait to go home to escape the teasing.

At home, Jack’s father has already heard from another parent about the incident at school.  He is furious and begins to yell at Jack as he walks in the door.  Jack’s father says that he has shamed the family. Jack runs downstairs and slams the door.

At practice that night, it is obvious to Jack that everyone has already heard of the ‘gay boy’ incident from school. Tonight is the night that the team captain is being chosen for the upcoming National competition next week.  Jack is hoping to be chosen:  he is a natural leader and is an obvious choice.  The team voting occurs and at the end of the practice, the team captain is announced:  it is not Jack.

Jack also learns that night that one of his male team mates has told the coach that he does not want to room with Jack at the competition next week. None of the boys on the team will volunteer to be his roommate.



What could help Jack?

Knowing that he has a right to be protected
- Knowing that it is not his fault
- Knowing that he is not alone and that there are people to listen to him/ask for help
- Talking to an adult who he trusts (such as: welfare officer, team doctor, team chaperone, nurse, parent, older sibling, friend or teacher)
- Using a helpline

What could Jack’s teammates do if they are worried about him?

Tell an adult that they trust about their concerns
- Seek help for their own feelings
- Seek help if they think they may be homophobic

How can athletes protect themselves from homophobia in sport?

Follow their organisation’s procedures if there are any
- Know their rights and responsibilities
- Know what to do to prevent and report concerns
- Look out for each other
- Challenge inappropriate behaviour by others
- Share their concerns with someone else


Coach-specific case study « Kurt »

Kurt is the head coach for the Under 17 male National Football Squad.  He is a tough coach but he is renowned for the results that his teams achieve.  He is a strict disciplinarian and takes pride in being a successful achiever. Kurt demands the same high level of respect, obedience and work ethic in his football team.  He works the team hard and pushes them to their limit.  His training sessions are run with military precision. 

Ryk is a 17 year old top goal keeper on the team and is one of Kurt’s favourite players.  Ryk is hard working and a high achiever – both on the field and at school.  He is a polite and obedient young man.

One day while enjoying the beach in Cape Town, Kurt sees Ryk sitting on a park bench holding hands with another young man.  They are obviously enjoying each other’s company.  They move behind a tree and Kurt sees Ryk kiss the man on the cheek. 

The next day at practice, Ryk arrives to a cold reception.  In front of the entire team, Kurt yells at Ryk and calls him derogatory names.  He tells him to leave his football pitch.

 As a coach what could Kurt do?

Recognise that athletes have the right to freedom from persecution on the basis of sexual orientation - which is a fundamental human right
- Not discriminate against the athlete on the basis of sexual orientation.
- Avoid making judgements about the personal lives of his athletes
- Challenge his own prejudices by engaging in professional education about diversity in sport
- Foster an atmosphere of mutual respect in the team
- Make sure that the team has a policy or statement of intent that demonstrates a commitment to create a safe and mutually respectful environment and that sets out procedures to promote athlete rights, well-being and protection