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All sport needs to #ComeOutForLGBT

Brian Vahaly and Nigel Owens have both spoken about the homophobia they experienced in their sports. This is an important moment, not only for tennis and rugby, but for all sport.

Too often football is cited as the black sheep of the sporting family – the one that has the problem with homophobia. But while football undoubtedly has a lot to do, it’s not alone – as these stories show.

It’s important for those involved in the world of sport to hear the experiences of LGBT people, and it’s crucial that they act on them. 

Having visible role models is only part of the puzzle.

Last year Stonewall and the Premier League signed up to a three-year strategic partnership to tackle the problem across all areas of the business, from grassroots community programmes to hate crime and policing.

Football is ready to tackle the problem. We now need other sports to take a step back and to critically assess whether they are actively supporting all of their athletes, all of their fans and all of the people who devote their life to making sport happen – from voluntary coaches to professional referees. 

In the Telegraph article Vahaly says he believes there’s been positive change in tennis. This year, Alison Van Uytvanck not only came out, she also shared an on-court kiss at Wimbledon with her girlfriend Greet Minnen – also a tennis player. 

That moment sent a powerful message to young people who may be questioning their sexuality and, in turn, questioning how that will impact their life. It was particularly important for young, talented LGBT athletes who may be seeking reassurance that they can continue in their sport and that they will be accepted for who they are. 

But having visible role models is only part of the puzzle, and it’s not only lazy but irresponsible for sports governing bodies to place the burden of social change solely on the shoulders of LGBT athletes. 

Our research shows the shocking reality that more than half of LGBT pupils (54 per cent) ‘frequently’ or ‘often’ hear anti-LGBT language in sports lessons. 

As one 16-year-old pupil from a private single-sex school told us ‘Other pupils say ‘don’t get changed next to her, she’s a lesbian’ and I don’t want to get changed next to a lesbian’. Changing rooms are awful. I feel sick and have panic attacks whenever we have PE. I have to changed in the cubicle toilets.’ 

No one can rest on their laurels or rely on the bravery of individuals to come out.

This abuse needs a coordinate response to ensure it’s stamped out. And LGBT people can’t be expected to do this on their own. This is why speculating about out Premier League players is such a pointless – and dangerous - rabbit hole. 

It also ignores the fact that, as Vahaly rightly highlights, coming out is an intensely personal decision and therefore cannot and should not be used as a marker of success, or failure, on how inclusive a sport is. 

What we should be looking at is what governing bodies are doing when they hear abuse or when they learn that someone in their sport spent their childhood in the sport listening to homophobia. 

We’d welcome a conversation with senior leaders in tennis – and in all sports - about inclusion. The tide may well be turning, but there is always more to be done to ensure that that no-one is left behind. 

The personal note that Bill Beaumont sent to Nigel Owens after he was subjected to homophobic abuse at Twickenham is a brilliant example of this in action, 

No one can rest on their laurels or rely on the bravery of individuals to come out. It’s sport’s collective responsibility to make change happen and we’re ready to help sport take that step.