“Canadian Sport Has Three Official Languages: French, English and Homophobic Language”

It doesn’t get more clear than that.

“Canadian sport has three official languages: French, English and homophobic language.”

Those are the words of Erik Denison, the lead researcher in a new study about homophobia in sports. The report looked at responses from LGBTQ+ athletes in Canada, the USA, England, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand found Canada to be the worst offender when it came to homophobic slurs, bullying and assaults.

“”It’s easy for Canadians to dismiss the data and say, ‘No, no, that’s not in our country. We’re inclusive and welcoming. And we’re known around the world for being friendly and polite and nice. Canada has been a laggard globally, full stop. There’s no other way to say that,” Denison told the Canadian Press.

The study, which was originally published by Monash University’s Behavioural Sciences Research Laboratory in Melbourne, found that 48 per cent of Canadian youth who come out to teammates reported being the target of homophobic behaviour, including bullying, assaults and slurs.

Denison and his research team found the common use of homophobic language is not only accepted in sport, it’s often encouraged.

“In sport, the culture is very supportive of homophobic language being used,” he stated.

Their studies found that not only are homophobic slurs use commonly against opponents, homophobic language is also being used at practices, in the locker-room, and at social events, as jokes and banter.

Similarly, the study found that organizations, and the adults in charge of teams are resistant to address the language, and harm being caused to the LGBTQ+ community.

Considering 14.6% of high school aged youth now identify as LGBTQ+, including 1.8% as transgender, it’s evident why participation levels in sport for LGBTQ+ youth continues to fall, while risks for self harm continue to rise.

So what can be done?

Pride games are a start.

“What we’ve seen is that when amateur-level teams hold pride games, the players on those teams use half the homophobic language than those who don’t hold these events,” Denison said. “These events are really good at getting those conversations going around ‘Hey, guys, what kind of language do we actually want on our team?’ That’s where we can change those norms and culture, we think quite effectively.”

But the real change needs to be systemic. In Canada, only Volleyball Canada has done specific work specifically targeting homophobia.

Denison specifically called out the need for governing bodies including Hockey Canada, Soccer Canada, and Rugby Canada to begin pulling their weight in fighting Canada’s third sport language: homophobia.

Read the entire study here, “Reviewing evidence of LGBTQ+ discrimination and exclusion in sport.”

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