‘Sport should be a space for everyone’

  Sporting Compass: With Dr Pippa Grange and Paul Oliver

Dr Pippa GrangePaul Oliver

As a sports psychologist and founder of Bluestone Edge, I am fortunate to have many conversations with people about the substance and meaning of sport.
My colleague Paul Oliver also engages with people at all levels across the sporting sector to keep his finger on the pulse of the latest news, views and issues.

In this space each fortnight, we will share some of these stories, insights and possibilities in relation to people, culture, ethics and leadership in sport. I hope you enjoy the conversation and we look forward to hearing your thoughts.

All the best, Pippa and Paul


‘Sport should be a space for everyone’

30 January 2014
Category:   SPORT/SOCIAL JUSTICE – for good and for glory
Dr Pippa Grange

In an article I wrote for Play by the Rules last year (Breaking down the barriers within sport), I discussed some of the thinking behind some of the standard responses used to justify homophobic behavior in sport, and highlighted the injurious effect these actions have on both individuals and sport in general. While momentum has been building on the subject of anti-homophobia in sport over the past few years, I have been critical of the apathy shown towards addressing the issue by sporting hierarchies, which to date has been dismissive, disappointing and frustratingly slow. However, I have been pleasantly surprised and encouraged by the events of the past month: January has definitely been a big month for discussion on the topic and finally some real action around sexuality-based discrimination and vilification in sport.

On the world stage, the excitement of the countdown to the Sochi Olympics is increasingly being overshadowed by Russia’s stridently anti-gay policies, which have already seen it labelled the ‘homophobic Olympics’. It will be interesting to see how the clash between sport, politics and social justice ideals is played out as the Games progress, particularly between Russian authorities, Olympic officials, competing athletes, spectators and supporters as they advocate for the upholding of Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter, which states that ‘sport does not discriminate on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender, or otherwise’.

Also this month, German international Thomas Hitzlsperger came out, announcing he is gay, to promote discussion of the issue in the European football community: “I am declaring my homosexuality because I want the question of homosexuality in the world of professional sport to be out in the open,” he said.1 His disclosure triggered a wave of support, including backing from Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou, who said he hopes gay Australian footballers would feel comfortable disclosing their sexuality if they wanted to. “From our perspective, it’s about creating an environment that in our sport, in our nation, that allows people to feel comfortable in that space,” he said. 2 It is very encouraging to see this form of leadership at the top level of sport – it sends a strong message that diversity and inclusion are truly valued.

On the home front, as part of a new plan to stamp out sexuality-based discrimination, the AFL will educate all first-to-third-year players on the impact of homophobia. A documentary has also been produced featuring gay Yarra Glen footballer Jason Ball, who describes the use of homophobic language he has encountered in sport and the harmful effects it has had on him during his career. Further to this, late last year the AFL engaged Jason to conduct a train-the-trainer workshop for over 25 coaches, presidents and board members from country and suburban leagues, to provide guidance on how to minimise sexuality-based discrimination, and make their clubs more accepting environments for gay players.

The AFL Players Association has also vowed to do more on the issue this season. Chief Executive Matt Finnis said recently in an article by The Age’s Jill Stark: “An AFL club should be a first-class sporting workplace and that means it’s a really diverse workplace, and that it’s really respectful and inclusive of people of all backgrounds. We haven’t necessarily had the tools or the focus around sexuality in the past, but I think it’s a terrific thing that it now forms part of what we talk about because people have to feel comfortable and included and shouldn’t be carrying any anxiety or feel uncomfortable about being themselves.’3 These are positive moves and noises coming from the code to promote greater awareness, understanding acceptance.

Last year also saw real progress in the number of anti-homophobia ads, campaigns and events focused on sport and support for gay athletes. Three of my favourites are: Athlete Ally, an international community of athletes, coaches and fans committed to making sports inclusive for everyone by ending homophobia and transphobia in sports. If you haven’t seen this video by Hudson Taylor, the pro-wrestler from the USA who founded Athlete Ally, it’s definitely worth checking out. The second is our home-grown Fair go, sport! project, which has had great success with promoting safe and inclusive sporting environments by increasing awareness of sexual and gender diversity in sport. The project, a Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission initiative, has had great success to date working with Hockey Victoria and Hockey Australia and is now branching out wider to schools and other sports as it continues to grow momentum and support. The final one is No to Homophobia, which has also effectively campaigned against discrimination in sport using ads featuring sporting role models. These campaigns and programs are vital to increase awareness to break down stereotypes and biases.

On a personal note, I’m looking forward to attending the annual Pride March in Melbourne this weekend to show my commitment to equal opportunity for Victoria’s GLBTI community. Pride March recognises and celebrates the people and events that inspire the courage, solidarity, pride and diversity and strong sense of community of Victoria’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, intersex and transgender people. It’s a fantastic community event, and one in which sport has had a visible presence at in recent years. AFL footballers Brock McLean and Daniel Jackson will be marching again, this time under the banner of Athlete Ally, to which Brock is an ambassador. If you’re around St Kilda this Sunday (2 Feb) bring along your sport banners, uniforms, sticks, rackets or footy to make sure your sport is visible and add to the sense of celebration and diversity.

As Athlete Ally’s Hudson Taylor says “An ally is defined by what you say and do”; let’s hope the words and actions shown by our sporting organisations, their leaders and athletes continue in the vein they have so far this year so we can progress further towards the ideal of sport as a space for everyone.

Dr Pippa Grange



1 http://www.theroar.com.au/2014/01/10/postecoglou-backs-gay-footballers/

2 http://www.theroar.com.au/2014/01/10/postecoglou-backs-gay-footballers/

3 http://www.theage.com.au/afl/afl-news/afl-spreads-word-on-homophobic-vilification-20140118-311rh.html#ixzz2rpt2LQ6U

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Categorized: SPORT/SOCIAL JUSTICE – for good and for glory