Former Olympian Blake Skjellerup says sport can do more to counter homophobia

Blake Skjellerup (front) of Christchurch began his skating career at age 10, and reached the Vancouver Olympics in 2010.
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Blake Skjellerup (front) of Christchurch began his skating career at age 10, and reached the Vancouver Olympics in 2010.

It's 2017, and New Zealand sport has a problem that isn't shifting.

According to a 2015 study, 80 per cent of those who have participated in sport in New Zealand had witnessed homophobia.

Former Olympian speed skater Blake Skjellerup says leading sporting bodies still aren't doing enough to counteract the issue.

Last year several leading sporting bodies in the country had committed to making their sports more inclusive of diversity, however Skjellerup said he is yet to see any sort of an outcome.

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"Personally, I do not believe it is that hard to establish code of conduct that explicitly names homophobia as unacceptable within the organisation.

Former Olympic speed skater Blake Skjellerup says New Zealand sporting bodies could be doing a lot more to eliminate ...
JONI ANDERSON

Former Olympic speed skater Blake Skjellerup says New Zealand sporting bodies could be doing a lot more to eliminate homophobia in sport.

"We could definitely be doing more at both a grass roots, education and professional level to counteract homophobia in sport. At the end of the day, sport is for everyone and no one should be made to feel like they are not welcome to participate in sport because of their sexuality."

Leading sporting bodies NZ Rugby, NZ Football, NZ Cricket, NZ Rugby League, Netball NZ and Hockey NZ, last year developed a "diversity and inclusion framework" within their individual organisations in order to eliminate homophobia and racism and in New Zealand sport.

While Skjellerup has been out of sport for a few years, he said New Zealand sport still had an issue even though the vast majority of the New Zealand public do not accept homophobia.

Blake Skjellerup, Christchurch Speed Skater wants a zero tolerance stance to homophobia in New Zealand sport.
DON SCOTT

Blake Skjellerup, Christchurch Speed Skater wants a zero tolerance stance to homophobia in New Zealand sport.

"A little bit of visibility goes a long way. In Canada their Olympic committee walks in every pride parade across the country. In previous years even professional ice hockey players have walked in pride parades in Canada and the United States.

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"I still think within the professional sporting environment in New Zealand there is a fear by administration and athletes to step outside of the status quo, and to go against what has always been done, or in this case, not be done". 

Skjellerup was disappointed this year when the 'Pride round' of super rugby, NRL and netball was practically non-existent with just a small amount of players showing any support with rainbow laces on their boots. Any momentum previously gained had vanished, he said.

Former Black Fern and Labour MP Louisa Wall struggled with homophobia during her playing career.
PHOTOSPORT

Former Black Fern and Labour MP Louisa Wall struggled with homophobia during her playing career.

Former netball and rugby international and Labour MP, Louisa Wall, said her career was riddled with homophobia in both of her sporting codes and it was a challenge for her to be in that environment.

"I distinctly remember the negative attitudes towards the LGBTIQ (Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Questioning) community. People making negative comments, ridiculing people thought to be LGBTIQ and generally communicating that being LGBTIQ was not ok and stigmatising this identity."

Wall come out openly gay during her sporting career spanning 1990s and 2000s, which proved a difficult period for her.

"When I came out I know that some coaches and teams used the fact that some of us were LGBTIQ to motivate their players because we were disgusting. This psychology did little to change the outcome of matches.

"I found however that at the elite level, especially in rugby, my performances countered any negativity. My coaches and teammates focused on my on-field performances and I was selected in teams. This was in part because there were more than me who were out and proud so we had a critical mass of LGBTIQ which meant we were valued and respected as teammates."

New Zealand Rugby General Manager of rugby Neil Sorensen said the organisation was working hard to include players of all backgrounds, diversity and sexual orientation.

"New Zealand Rugby wants any person in the country to feel safe and encouraged to play rugby. Your sexuality shouldn't come into it at all. In fact having a real cross section of New Zealanders playing rugby would be great for the game.

"Along with other sports codes we are committed to developing diversity and inclusion frameworks and policies. We have a way to go, but we have made a good start in the last couple of years."

Wall said the 2016 diversity framework used by NZ sporting governing bodies was triggered by some startling figures that had come out of a 2015 Out on the fields study, which was the first international study on homophobia in sport. It included New Zealand, Australia, the UK, USA, Ireland and Canada.

One of the most worrying statistics from the study was New Zealand had the highest percentage for gay adults to "stay in the closet" in sport with 61 per cent choosing to do so. This was well ahead of Australia's 5 per cent.

Statistics for lesbians not coming out were also high, with New Zealand's 40 per cent just behind highest ranked Ireland on 48 per cent.

Eighty-eight percent of gay New Zealand youths had not come out with the figure for lesbian youth 76 per cent.

The biggest reasons for not coming out among those surveyed were fear they would be bullied, not accepted into teams or discriminated against.

AT A GLANCE

Out on the Fields (international study on homophobia in sport (countries surveyed were New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the UK, USA and Ireland).

- 78% of Kiwis have witnessed homophobia in sport
- 77% of Kiwis believe an openly gay person would not be safe as a spectator at sport
- 55% of gay Kiwi men have been personally targeted and 45% of lesbians
- 32% of gay Kiwi men have been bullied at sport, 9% of lesbians have also.
- 19% of gay Kiwi men have had verbal threats, 4% of lesbians
- 15% of gay Kiwi men have been physically assaulted in sport, with 2% of lesbians.
- 76% of those surveyed (straight and gay) in NZ believe gay people are not accepted in sport
- 71% believe gay youths are not safe in their sport
- 88% of gay Kiwi youths stay in the closet in their sports, 76% of gay lesbian youths do the same, while 61% of gay Kiwi adults stay in the closet and 40% of of NZ lesbian adults.
 

 - Stuff

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