A behavioural science researcher says LGBT+ pride rounds in professional sporting competitions could do more harm than good if they fail to send the right message to the community.
- The NBL held its first pride round last month, but the Cairns Taipans chose not to wear themed jerseys
- A behavioural scientist says pride rounds need to be more focused on anti-discrimination to be effective
- Pride in Sport says the NBL has also worked to improve its policies around inclusion
The National Basketball League’s inaugural pride round this season began with controversy when the Cairns Taipans decided not to wear pride-themed jerseys.
Researcher Erik Denison, from Monash University’s Behaviour Science Institute, said “wearing a jersey with a little rainbow on it” and using terms like “celebrating the LGBT community” without specifically targeting homophobic behaviour would not lead to positive change.
“There’s nothing wrong with doing a pride game,” Dr Denison said.
“As long as it’s not done in a way where it creates opportunities for players to refuse to take part or people to use it as a leverage tool for their political campaigns against the gay community.”
Pride events aimed at supporting the LGBT+ community are not new in Australia, although they have occasionally attracted controversy.
AFL clubs Sydney and St Kilda have contested annual LGBT+-themed pride matches since 2016, while the NRL’s Manly side made headlines last year when seven Sea Eagles players refused to wear rainbow-themed jerseys in a match against the Roosters.
Neither the NRL nor the AFL men’s competition have organised an entire pride round, although the AFLW has since 2021.
Does the message filter down?
Beau Newell is the national program manager for not-for-profit Pride in Sport, which the NBL consulted in developing its pride round.
Mr Newell said the league did a “substantial amount of consultation and work” in improving its policies ahead of the launch.
“They also led and ensured that training and education was delivered not only for all staff within the NBL, but also every single team within the league was provided training and education around LGBTQ awareness,” he said.
Mr Newell said Pride in Sport provided support and guidance to organisations wanting to become more inclusive, most of which involved policy improvements.
He said public-facing projects, like pride rounds and campaigns against harmful behaviour, were important in reducing discrimination and welcoming LGBT+ people.
“We’re saying to sports, ‘call out homophobia, call out biphobia and transphobia, for what it is’,” he said.
“If we do that, we’ll actually have a great impact on, initially, the awareness of that space and why it’s important to work in this area [and show] the rainbow community that they are indeed going to be coming into a safe and inclusive environment.”
However, Dr Denison said there was no evidence that pride rounds at a professional level reduced stigmatising behaviour towards LGBT+ people at the community or junior level “where kids are deciding whether or not to play sport”.
“We know gay boys play sport at half the rate of straight boys, or if they’re being subjected to really harmful behaviours it increases the risk of suicide by two to four times,” Dr Denison said.
“It doesn’t filter down to children’s behaviour because these behaviours aren’t about ‘I hate gay people’.
“They’re calling each other homophobic slurs to conform to others because their coaches are using the language, their teammates are using language, it’s part of the bonding and banter that goes on.”
Progression, not perfection
According to Dr Denison, basing events around general terms like “celebrating the LGBT community” without specifically opposing homophobic behaviour was also not productive.
“It’s not about celebrating anything, it’s about doing your job as a sport and making sure children are safe to play your sport,” he said.
The NBL said all its clubs participated in Pride in Sport’s inclusion program and that profits from sales of its pride jerseys would help fund its ongoing annual fee to be part of the program.
Mr Newell said there were still improvements individual NBL sides could make.
“We expect sports, and even individuals, to be perfect and 100 per cent inclusive from day dot and that’s an unrealistic expectation,” he said.
“Pride rounds can actually kickstart the conversations that we so desperately need within the sporting landscape and that just isn’t happening often enough.”
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