Athlete Ally is deeply concerned to hear of a recent survey of the Matildas, Australia’s women’s national soccer team, in which a quarter of players reported psychological distress and feeling afraid to seek support for fear of retaliation. Fewer than 20% of players said they felt the team environment was conducive to making them better players or people. Sources have also noted a culture of bullying, intimidation, body shaming and ‘‘flippant’’ homophobic remarks.
For athletes to play to the best of their ability, they must have the freedom to be their full selves without fear of harassment, and to know that if they do experience harassment, they are able to seek support without fear of reprisal. This requires coaches, players and team staff to work collaboratively in ensuring a team culture where all players—including LGBTQ players—feel welcome, included, and safe to be who they are.
Homophobia is rampant in sport, and has devastating effects on players, teams and fans. The more discriminatory behavior is brushed aside, the more it can create a deeply ingrained toxic culture where LGBTQ players feel forced to hide who they are at the detriment of their mental and physical well-being. This also has an effect on LGBTQ fans, who deserve to see themselves represented in the sports they love, and to know that those in leadership positions within these sports value respect, inclusion and diversity.
We call upon athletic leaders to take reports of homophobia seriously, and to commit to meaningfully prioritizing LGBTQ respect and inclusion through education and policy. When we ensure that everyone can play as they are, we all win.