The Importance Of Sports In Our Fight Against The Bullies

In recent times, we have seen the dark side of competitive sports rear its vulgar head when it comes to attitudes towards Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ) equality.

One only needs to listen to half the things that Jason Akermanis says to really feel the need to cower in a box. Or what about the comments by Steve Milne. Rather disgusting aren’t they?

Stephanie Rice once used the word “Faggot” and got into a lot of trouble for it.

So why, if sport is so ingrained in Australian culture, is it a danger zone for LGBTIQ community members? What kind of messages do our top paid athletes, who represent our country sometimes, send to young LGBTIQ youth when these slurs come out of their mouths?

Why? Many reasons. All 100% non-acceptable. The message: Destructive.

Sports are a major part of the Australian way of life. We grow up on it, we play it, we follow in our parents footsteps and back the same teams, we spend so much on it during events. It’s just who we are.

However, that should also include the LGBTIQ community. Because the LGBTIQ community is also part of the Australian people.

But it’s not all gloom and doom for the sports and LGBTIQ mix-up.

Recently, a young brave and openly gay AFL player, Jason Ball was able to raise such support for an online petition against homophobia in the AFL, that he received much required media attention. Even the AFL CEO addressed the issue directly, after tens of thousands of people signed the petition.

I believe that sports are not just part of the Australian culture but an avenue of education that can be further explored to help us combat the rising problems of bullying, self-harm and suicide amongst LGBTIQ youth.

Sports help young people build networks and peers, who work together as a team and look out for each other – regardless of their sexuality. Ask Jason’s team mates. They don’t care if he is gay. And if anyone gives him a tough time about it, they’ve got a team of AFL-playing men to deal with.

Sports also help build confidence and self-esteem, two qualities that many young LGBTIQ youth sometimes lack, due to societal pressure to conform with the majority. “That’s so gay” and “faggot” are thrown around in sports (and society in general) to the point where the negative connotation sticks and becomes damaging.

But when working together in a team, where some youths are openly LGBTIQ, a boundary of respect is drawn by all team members to not insult and to think twice about using such harsh words. The ‘pay-it-forward’ attitude is a potential chain reaction that needs to be activated, and this respect is always contagious.

Sports helps keep our minds and bodies healthy and active – helping reduce the risk of substance abuse, depression and anxiety – all traits that any youth (and especially LGBTIQ youth) all suffer from due to bullying.

Recently I got to work with some wonderful people who contributed towards The Community Brave Foundation’s 2013 LGBTIQ Sports Team Calendar. These teams and individuals highlighted to me that even though mixed or straight sports teams, codes and competitions can sometimes be harsh playgrounds, there are also LGBTIQ and LGBTIQ-friendly teams that young people could get involved in to counteract the damaging effects of bullying.

Whilst I truly believe in an equal playing field regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race etc. I also truly feel that no youth should miss out on the opportunity to build their esteem, confidence and network of peers through sports, and maybe an LGBTIQ team is a way to achieve that.

I also believe that by incorporating sports into our anti-bullying education programs, we can help build a longer term sustainable solution to the problem that is driving many of our youth to think the only way out is suicide.

The Community Brave Foundation has released a 2013 calendar in support of celebrating our local Sydney LGBTIQ sports teams and their friends. We should embrace these teams and individuals as role models and encourage facilitation of mentoring programs and early registrations in these teams to foster a growing community which carries the values that will help us combating bullying of young LGBTIQ youth.

In my opinion the best education for a healthy mind, healthy body and healthy soul is fastest gained through sports and team participation.

And this education is the best weapon we have against the bullying epidemic.

It can be stopped. And we can do it having fun. With sports.

About the author

Rami Mandow is the chairman of the Community Brave Foundation a Collaborative Community Project to eradicate Online Bullying, Homophobia, Transphobia and Youth Suicide. Targeted at youths, we aim to change the world through support, education and social media.