Alarming statistics show Australian gay and lesbian sports players are more than 75% more likely to remain in the closet out of fear.
Beau Newell, the national program manager of Pride In Sport Australia, said sporting institutions from social clubs right through to the professional leagues need to focus on inclusion.
Mr Newell said research revealed that 75% of Australia believes an LGBTQI person would not be safe as a spectator at a sports game.
“We know that 87% of gay men and 75% of lesbians remain completely or partially in the closet while playing youth sport in Australia,” Newell added. “The reason for that is many fear discrimination from coaches, other players, and officials.
“That’s compared to 55% of people in the workplace environment. Our research shows that only 20% of people in Australia believe that their sport is genuinely committed to LGBTQI inclusion.”
He added that it allows organisations to not only assess their practice but determine those which constitute good practice, along with the ability to benchmark their initiatives against an external measure and other sporting organisations.
Mr Newell said Australian sporting culture has a history of homophobia. While some organisations believe they might provide an inclusive case, often the individual’s experience shows that is not the case.
He added that it is a statistical anomaly that there are not more out and proud elite sports players which “goes to show there’s a culture shift that is required in all sports.”
Mr Newell said sports at all levels need to focus on their governance as well as educate people involved in any capacity of the game to be truly inclusive.
In an anonymous, open letter released by the Justin Fashanu Foundation to The Sun, the player has documented his reasons for staying in the closet.
“I wish I didn’t have to live my life in such a way,” he wrote.
“But the reality is there is still a huge amount of prejudice in football. There are countless times I’ve heard homophobic chants and comments from supporters directed at no one in particular.
“Strangely it doesn’t really bother me during the matches. I am too focused on playing. It’s when I get back on the plane or the coach, and I have time to think that it gets to me.”
“If I need a counsellor I can go and book a session with one whenever I want,” he said.
“What those running the game need to do is educate fans, players, managers, agents, club owners — basically everyone involved in the game.
“If I was to make that step I’d want to know that I would be supported at each step of my journey. Right now, I don’t feel I would be.”
The anonymous player said that the strain of keeping his secret has become an “absolute nightmare” and believes his only option now is to wait until he retires and then come out.