Homophobia in Sport: Why isn’t more being done to protect LGBT athletes?

John Amaechi testified before the Commons Culture, Media, And Sport Committee to discuss homophobia in the sporting world


On November 8th, John and Olympic race walker Tom Bosworth sat before the Culture, Media, and Sport Committee of the House of Commons to examine homophobia in sport. The committee is examining the snail-like pace at which sport is addressing homophobia, and what can be done to tackle issues surrounding the understanding and equal treatment of LGBT athletes.

Much of John’s testimony emphasised the idea that leadership is responsible for setting the tone of what is and isn’t acceptable in sport and in workplaces, and that an absence of any sort of refutation of homophobia in sport sends a tacit message that while something like skin colour is worth protecting, sexual identity is not. He added that it is irresponsible to allow leaders to blame unacceptable behaviour on what is perceived as ‘feral and uncontrollable fans in the stands’, when this obfuscation wouldn’t be accepted in other areas, such as education or the workplace.

“When you decide to tackle one bit of an element of a toxic society, one ‘ism’ at a time, you tell people which you think is most important, and that’s dangerous because it means that progress lags in all the other areas.”

John pointed out that sport has made an effort to eliminate racism from sport, but went on to point out that the same effort applied to something like homophobia not only lags behind the rest of society, but that the inattention to this issue was by design, and purposeful. He supported this by pointing out the multi-billion Pound profit in football, and the ease by which the sport could effect immediate change that would improve the lives of LGBT athletes, yet they remain silent on that issue, while projecting an air of social responsibility when it comes to the subject of racism. As John said to the select committee, “When you decide to tackle one bit of an element of a toxic society, one ism at a time, you tell people which you think is most important, and that’s dangerous because it means that progress lags in all the other areas.”

John testified alongside Olympic race walker Tom Bosworth, who emphasised that having a quality support structure is what made it possible for him to come out last year, as part of his preparation for the Rio Games. Subsequent to that announcement, Tom spoke of the response he received, overwhelmingly positive, that was reduced somewhat by the increase in negative responses on social media. That didn’t deter Tom, however, who had the best performances of his career after coming out, going into the Games ranked 37th in the world, and finishing 6th. He attributed that during his testimony to the fact that all of his energy to race well was available to him, rather than having to use any percentage of it to use neutral pronouns, or avoid subjects that would give away that element of him.

The idea of performance was also highlighted by John, who pointed out that leadership in companies and organisations now understand that it is energy expensive for employees to conceal their authentic selves, and once free of that burden, the entire organisation succeeds.

The testimony by John and Tom is well worth watching, not simply because of the sharing of their personal stories, but also for their input in how sport can mirror companies who have embraced a culture that promotes equality among all employees.

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