Homophobia and sport

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If you believe newspaper reporting,

new research by Victoria University shows that gay men believe Australian rules is the most hostile football code, with many saying they feel too threatened to play the game….The Victoria University research, based on a survey of 308 people and to be published next month, found the most common sports that gay men would like to play but did not, or felt they could not, were Australian rules football (45 per cent), rugby (17.5 per cent) and soccer (10 per cent).

Really? Australian-rules football seems greatly more hostile to homosexual participants than rugby? This made me suspicious, and eager to check out the report, “Come Out to Play: the Sports experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people in Victoria“. The figures described above in the newspaper, given on page 66 of the report, might catch the eye. But they don’t represent a useful score of perceived hostility, such as the proportion of people who feel they can’t play a particular sport, conditional on them wanting to play that sport. Instead they represent the proportion of people who want to play a particular sport, conditional on them feeling they can’t play a sport. This isn’t so much an index of homophobia as a popularity score! Gay men don’t ‘believe Australian rules is the most hostile football code’ – at least there’s no evidence to say so.

Actually there’s not much evidence for anything in the report, in the sense of unbiased estimates. Intuitively many of the figures make sense, and the dreadful anecdotes of homophobia and abuse deserve weight. But the actual numbers mean little. The survey data comes from a questionnaire hosted online at Demographix, with respondents recruited through both advertising and snowball sampling (researchers forwarded emails to people on their contacts list, who then referred them to friends, and so on). When the target population is hidden or marginalised, of course, this kind of sampling may be unavoidable. But the authors of ‘Come Out to Play’ don’t even acknowledge it, or seem very fussed with what one of them calls ‘rigid quantitative methodologies’. Figures 12 and 15, for example, are completely trivial.

An important issue deserves a bit better than this. Vague impressions and anecdotes are best left to the likes of Jason Akermanis.

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2 Responses to “Homophobia and sport”

  1. Daniel Golding Says:

    Even before you got to the framing of the questions the title of the study gave it away. In Victoria, no-one wants to play Rugby!

  2. Nick Says:

    Yeah. And, at that, do they mean rugby league or rugby?

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