Stonewall are keenly aware of the importance of sport and physical activity both socially and politically. With London hosting the Olympics in 2012 sport is at the top of the agenda, however moves to get more people involved in sport and physical activity have often failed to consider the experiences of lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

Stonewall works with sporting organisations to raise the issues of lesbian, gay and bisexual people in sport as:

  • Amateur participants
  • Professional participants
  • Employees
  • Officials
  • Supporters

What we know

We hear from lesbian, gay and bisexual people that they can sometimes experience discrimination when participating in sport. However, by and large there has been very little research exploring this topic.

Stonewall however has conducted research into homophobic abuse in English football (Leagues Behind). The research found that seven in ten football fans who had attended a football match in the last five years (to 2009) had heard or witnessed homophobic abuse at a match. This homophobic abuse includes homophobic language and chanting directed at players, fans and officials. The findings also showed that the majority of football fans want homophobia to be eradicated from the sport, but that only around a third believe that the FA, football clubs and their partners currently do enough to tackle homophobic abuse.
Stonewall’s research also indicates that there is a particular issue of homophobia in youth sport, with over half of young lesbian, gay and bisexual people not liking team sports (School Report).

Sport England’s Active People Survey, which records data on the participation in sport of different under-represented groups does not currently record data on the levels of participation for lesbian, gay and bisexual people. Data from the Active People survey is used by sporting organisations to target and shape their work on inclusion and participation and as a result, to date only a few sports bodies have prioritised work to improve the participation of lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

In 2008, Sport Scotland in partnership with UK Sport, Sport England and Sport Northern Ireland, published a literature review into  sexual orientation in sport. The review found that very little research exists on how sexual orientation and homophobic discrimination affects the participation of lesbian, gay and bisexual people and gave recommendations on future research that needs to be conducted.

What we have done

In the last year Stonewall has introduced a programme of work around sport. In August 2009, Stonewall launched Leagues Behind, a ground-breaking piece of research into homophobia in football. The report is the first of its kind and provides clear evidence for the FA and its partners of the desire of football fans for the game to be free of homophobic abuse.

The sports sector broadly however is comprised of numerous sports bodies with little or no resources, often staffed by volunteers. In addition a lack of understanding of the issues faced by lesbian, gay and bisexual people means that many individuals within the sports sector have yet to understand the importance of work on sexual orientation. The primary focus of our work to date therefore has been to help national sports councils to provide better advice and support to enable sports organisations to undertake work on equality for lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

Stonewall also advise national governing bodies to ensure they are open to lesbian, gay and bisexual people. There has, to date, been little in the way of good practice which governing bodies can replicate, so Stonewall has worked closely with a small number of governing bodies to develop ideas and good practice. This has resulted in the Rugby Football League being the first governing body to join the Stonewall Diversity Champions Programme amongst other activities. UK Sport is also a member of the Diversity Champions Programme.

What we are doing

Following the publication of Leagues Behind Stonewall will work closely with the FA and other football organisations to encourage the implementation of the report’s recommendations. In addition, Stonewall continue to encourage other sport organisations to conduct further research to fill the gaps in information, as identified by the Sports Councils’ Literature Review so as to better understand the issues faced by lesbian, gay and bisexual players and supporters. Stonewall also intends to conduct our own research to contribute to our work with sporting organisations.

Stonewall also continue to push London 2012 to do more on sexual orientation equality. With 2012 only a few years away, the focus is on ensuring that one of the legacies of the Olympics and Paralympics is that young lesbian, gay and bisexual people are fully able to participate in sport openly and without fear of discrimination.

For more information on Stonewall’s work in sport, please email contact 08000 50 20 20 or



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