Sport is the new frontier in the war against homophobia with the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) rolling out a $150,000 anti-homophobia project this year to target a national sports code.

Victorian human rights commissioner Dr Helen Szoke told Sydney Star Observer although the sports code has not yet been chosen, the 12-month project will tackle one sporting arena from grassroots to the elite level to establish a benchmark anti-homophobia strategy other codes can follow.

“It’s to really permeate and saturate one sporting code with a range of resources and information and capacity-building materials to address the issue of homophobia in sport,” she said.

“In the general sense, we understand sport is a very powerful vehicle to reach the population, to educate and empower, to enable people’s voices to be heard.”

The project has been funded by the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) and is still in the developmental stages.

A VEOHRC project officer is set to be appointed in the coming weeks.

A steering committee including the VEOHRC, the ASC and representation from the Victorian Government has also been established.

Szoke said it’s likely the project will link in with other resources such as Play by the Rules, a national online training site developed by humans rights bodies in each state for clubs, coaches and players to encourage safe, inclusive and fair play on the sports field.

ASC Sport, Performance and Development assistant director Nadine Cohen said the ASC committed to fund the project midway through 2009 after discussions with Victorian advocacy group Challenging Homophobia in Sport Initiative (CHISI).

CHISI was critical of the ASC at the time for failing to include the GLBTI community on its agenda for greater inclusion in sport.

“It’s a space the [ASC] has been working in, but our whole inclusive supportive environment strategy hasn’t really been about a particular group as such,” Cohen told Sydney Star Observer.

“We’ve worked in Indigenous sport, women in sport, disability, culturally and linguistically diverse communities [and] certainly the research CHISI presented to us really highlighted there was a particular area they felt needed to be looked at … around homophobia in sports.”

Cohen said in the meantime the ASC would be in talks with the 91 national sporting organisations it deals with to promote International Day Against Homophobia.

Szoke praised the AFL Players Association’s recent public campaign against homophobia and said the VEOHRC would also like to see some gender balance on the issue.

“I think it would good to include what are traditionally known as the women’s sports as well as the male sports.

“If you think that netball is the highest participation sport in the country, then the reach of those messages is really critical.”

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