Homophobic language is rife across the Australian Ice Hockey League with 60 per cent of players admitting to using homophobic slurs on the rink, according to new research.
The world-first study, led by Monash University’s Erik Denison, involved 146 players who currently play in the league.
The study’s findings revealed that 60 per cent of players had admitted to using homophobic slurs like “f*g” or “d*ke” in the weeks prior to the research, and 68 per cent of players had heard their teammates use them.
More than 25 per cent of players had also heard coaches use homophobic slurs.
Denison said the language didn’t appear to be motivated by homophobia, but rather a desire for social acceptance and to conform to what is viewed as “normal”.
“We found a very large disconnect between positive attitudes about gay people and the negative language used,” he said.
“For example, 86 per cent of participants said they did not think it was okay to make jokes about gay people and 77 per cent said they were confident they would stop others bullying a gay teammate.
“Furthermore, 82 per cent of players believed a gay person would feel welcome on their team, despite homophobic slurs being used regularly.”
In 2017, Australia held its first ever ice hockey pride match, in clashes between the Melbourne Mustangs and the Newcastle Northstars, the Sydney Bears and Melbourne Ice, and Adelaide Adrenaline and CBR Brave.
The prevalence of homophobic language in sporting environments has been proven to deter LGBTIQ+ young people from participating in it, and contribute to high rates of self-harm and suicide.
Denison said a massive culture change was needed to stop this negative cycle.
“Hockey has been a leader in efforts to end homophobic and sexist behaviour and so the results of our research will help the sport to refine the approaches it is taking,” he said.
“It is important to target the underlying cause of the problem, which is what our research will help hockey to do.
“We also wanted to research hockey because it remains the only major pro sport that’s never had a gay athlete come out either while playing or in retirement.”
Kade Matthews, the founder of Australia’s first LGBTIQ+ hockey team the Southern Lights, said it was imperative for homophobia to be addressed in all codes of sport.
He added that both players and spectators should be encouraged to call out offensive language.
“I’m a big believer that people want to do the right thing and don’t want to harm others but don’t know the harm being caused by the language they are using,” he said.
“I think the best way to educate and change the language is through sharing our experiences, which is one reason why we created the LGBT hockey team.
“We are now visible and this allows us to share our experiences and educate others. People don’t change their mind or how they are acting if you call them homophobic or a bigot. The way to change minds is to share our experiences with honesty and to also listen to them and answer their questions without being offended.
“The culture and the language will change if we have more players sharing experiences at the grassroots of sport and being honest with how they feel and showing support for others.
“Not every discussion is going to result in changing someone’s mind or getting them to change how they act, but I just tell my story and hope they relate to some part of it.”