A new study has suggested that young rugby players who use anti-gay slurs on the field are not necessarily homophobic but just trying to fit in.

The Monash University study of 323 teenage rugby players found that those who used terms like “fag” and “poof” considered their comments “normal” and were just trying to be accepted by their teams, Yahoo News has reported.

“I had a perception that sport was likely filled with more homophobes than general society—that it was a bastion of homophobia—but that is not what we found,” said lead researcher Erik Denison.

“These boys were using it… completely thoughtlessly.

“They don’t really mean any malice towards gay people, they believe there are no gay people on their team so they are not harming anyone by using this language.”

More than half of the young players in the study admitted to using homophobic slurs themselves, while 75 per cent said they had heard a teammate do so.

However, almost half said they had close gay friends, and over 80 per cent claimed they would stop others from bullying a gay teammate.

Denison said the issue of homophobia in sport exists at an institutional level, with professional players having a responsibility to stamp out hateful attitudes and language.

“It is not a rugby problem. It is a male team sport problem,” he said.

“We really, really need to professional players to step up here… they need to go into the clubs and change their culture.

“By going into the clubs they are literally saving the lives of gay kids—they take their life at a four times higher rate than straight kids—and we know homophobic language is a key part.

“The sports themselves need to start taking this seriously, it can’t be tokenistic gestures.”

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