Sports is biodiversity in itself which imitates the society that we live in. It can loosely be called a microcosm of society, which makes it less surprising that as of today a heterosexual man has more chance to be successful and have more facilities when it comes to sports. Just like the world we live in, Sports to has very little awareness and scope for an athlete from the LGBTQIA community to come in, break the straight men narrative and prosper. Very few internationally acclaimed athletes have even failed to come out of the closet even though they have no reached the rungs of success.
Recently James Faulkner, an Australian cricket player tweeted saying that he was enjoying dinner with his mum and boyfriend. This led to many speculations and congratulations messages followed, as everyone thought he was coming out. However, Faulkner then came up with another post where he clarified that he wasn’t gay at all, and that was his best friend. This incident got me wondering how less the LGBTQIA is represented in the sporting industry. There are hardly any LGBTQIA sports players in the world.
Many times it has been observed in sporting matches, that racist and homophobic slurs are the most commonly used slangs. It had reached such a level in the 2018 FIFA World Cup that a referee in one of the match has even contemplated retirement. This phenomenon is even widely seen in India, where hardly any news about an LGBTQIA athlete has come up or even made headlines. This is probably only fashioned along the lines of the society that we live in, which is still very much dominated by the ideologies of the colonial rulers.
In recent times, Article 377 has been slashed down by our judiciary, yet, still, the community has found no representation in the world of sports.
Sport and the power of representation
Sports is often the story of a larger and bigger social structure in which we inhabit. From controversies relating to transgender issues, skirt lengths, racism, to the wage gap between men and women sporting events, it has highly been inspired by the current societal trends. Yet, it has been seen that Sports has the ability to turn the tide around and bring in a wave of change. From challenging the respective laws on the natural testosterone levels that women pose, to talking about the wage gap, the athletes have started to represent much more than what their jersey denotes. The best feeling comes when these movements by athletes come with success. Yet, even though athletes from far and wide have talked about issues like racism, gender issues- sexism, but till now very few athletes have voiced their opinions about the LGBTQIA community.
It happened just once when the 2018 Winter Olympics at Pyeongchang, put the LGBTQIA athletes into the limelight and also helped others to talk about the rampant homophobia that is predominant in the sporting industry. Despite the Pyeongchang success, the Indian LGBTQIA+ community is yet to emerge in sport, highlighting the urgent need for intersectional diversity: yes, we do see the emergence of successful LGBTQIA+ athletes, but how many of them are from India, or even the rest of the Global South?
But why does this happen? Except for the culture that we live in there are other factors also that have led to the systematic marginalisation of the LGBTQIA community when it comes to playing sports.
The most overbearing factor is the invisibility of the LGBTQIA community in the context of Indian sports. It is surprising to know that trans and fluid gender identities seldom feature in the sports policies curated by our sporting narrative. For example, the Haryana and West Bengal sports policies limit their language only to “men and women”. The draft Kerala Sports Policy fails to even mention gender, but promises to be inclusive and accessible to the ambiguously worded “diversity of Kerala society”.
In this regard, perhaps the Karnataka Sports Policy can provide a much-needed starting point for the rest of the country. It uses conscious language to replace the normalised “both genders” or “two genders” with “diverse genders”, building a foundation in the sport for representation.
Then comes the problem of infrastructure. The sporting facilities and infrastructure completely ignore people from the non-binary gender categories. There are no gender-neutral changing rooms or restrooms in stadiums or sporting academies.
One of the major issues that really sideline and discourage players from the LGBTQIA community to come up is the issue of severe bullying which included homophobes slurs. Even I’m sporting teams and events when openly gay athletes have participated, they have found it extremely hard to sustain and tolerate all the bullying that comes along with it. Especially in team sports, where casual homophobic discussions are seen harmless by the other heterosexual players, it might be extremely hard to tolerate for the homosexual players.
In such cases, even flexible sports policies and more inclusive sports rules, cannot help in bringing about a wholesome change in the locker room, or even among the spectators. Many a times spectators scream out homophobic slurs from the audience which may cause severe distress to the players. In one incident, a spectator threw banana peels at a gay player in a football match which shouting homophobic slurs.
What Is The Solution
The solution has to come from the ground level and the very foundation from which the homophobia actually starts- School playgrounds. Schools play a major role in the development of a child, and most of the schools both in India and globally have stereotyped the image of a sports player. A sports player has to be manly, has to have muscles and has to be extremely suave. He has to have a style and wear a typical kind of clothes which are not pink or any lighter shades of purple or pink. These definitions are what makes up the ideal man who can enrol himself in sports. The moment someone challenges this definition there is a problem and he must be thrown out.
The first step in stopping this is if schools make sure that not only do every student participate in these so-called manly sports, but also that homophobic slurs and the stereotyped definition of the ideal sports player is broken. For this education is needed, so that children don’t grow up and tear down the LGBTQIA community using homophobic slurs. An environment of inclusivity has to be encouraged.
Sporting academies need to find proper coaches and trainers who are sensitive to the LGBTQIA issues, and who can help people from this community to rise up and take part in the major sporting events. Facilities like gender-neutral restrooms and locker rooms need to make a way to the sporting academies. The coaches and trainers have to be extra sensitive if they have an LGBTQIA player to make sure that the locker room environment is accepting and not homophobic.
Another major way to increase the awareness of the LGBTQIA community and facilitate their inclusion into the sporting industry is by through media. Media also plays its part in reiterating the whole idea of the straight male sports player narrative. The perfect sports player is depicted in a very stereotypical way, where the LGBTQIA community finds no position. Media has also failed to recognise some LGBTQIA talent and failed to give coverage to the tournaments that have LGBTQIA participation.
But, in spite of all that, the major need of the hour is to have a safe environment which allows more LGBTQIA sports players to come up and participate in the major sporting events. Along with that, a safe environment also needs to be created wherein the already existing sports players from the LGBTQIA community can come out of the closet without fear or bullying.
Also published on Medium.