World-first research into homophobia in sport wins inclusion award at 2019 VicSport Awards

by Rugby Vic Media

Vicsport have announced that the 2019 Peter Norman inclusion award has been presented to a researcher who led a world-first study testing the effect of a program designed to end homophobic language in sport.

The program was delivered during the 2018 season to teenage rugby teams by current and recently retired players from the Melbourne Rebels. The research, conducted by Erik Denison, from Monash University’s School of Social Sciences, also examined why homophobic and sexist language remains so common in male team sports and how this language drives girls from sport. Other researchers involved included Prof. Kerry O'Brien, Associate Prof. Ruth Jeanes, Dr. Nick Faulkner, and researchers James Piggins and Nadia Bevan. 

The research was supported financially by the Federal Government, Rugby Australia, Rugby Victoria,  the Woollahra Colleagues Rugby Club and by Australia’s first gay and inclusive rugby team, the Sydney Convicts. Selected by a panel of industry representatives, Mr Denison was awarded the inaugural honour for pushing the boundaries to prove that real, genuine change can be made to ensure that sport is safe, welcoming, fair and inclusive for all, reflecting Rugby Victoria’s purpose to create a Game for All.

Mr Denison said: “This award recognises the work of a large group of people, particularly leaders within Victoria’s rugby union community and players from the Melbourne Rebels, who supported our research focused on ending homophobic behaviour in sport.”

In 2018, Mr Denison commenced the undertaking of the world-first studies in Victoria, testing programs to end discrimination, alongside Rugby Victoria and current and former Melbourne Rebels; Tom English, Sam Jeffries, Jordy Reid, Dom Shipperley, Lachlan Mitchell, and James King.  “It was brave of the Victorian rugby community to support this research so strongly,” Mr Denison said.

“I know Rugby Victoria says rugby is a ‘game for all’, although sometimes these slogans don’t translate to the grassroots.” “This was not our experience with rugby. “Everyone involved in rugby, from national, state and club leaders as well as coaches and players supported our research and efforts to end discrimination in all sports. “This level of engagement is unheard of when conducting this type of research.”

Mr Denison acknowledges that he could not have implemented the research without a brain trust and small group of people who supported the research including Melbourne Chargers Coaching Assistant Mitch Canning, retired Foundation Melbourne Rebel Lachlan Mitchell, and Rebels and Rugby Victoria board member Neil Hay.

Rugby Victoria General Manager Chris Evans congratulated Erik Denison on his achievement and thanked him for initiating and leading this extremely important research project. “Rugby Victoria is committed to developing, administering and promoting Rugby in Victoria while ensuring it is a game for all,” Mr Evans said. “Rugby Victoria has taken a step in the right direction by implementing Erik’s research but we need to continue conversations in order to change attitudes and to ensure our Rugby Clubs are welcoming environments for all Victorians.”

Dedicated to the cause, Chris Evans will be joining Rugby Victoria and Melbourne Rebels Director Neil Hay at the Pride Cup Handbook Launch and CEO ‘Pledge of Pride’ forum on Tuesday.

The event is a public pledge to support Victorian Sporting Associations to eliminate homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexism in their sports.

Rugby Victoria President Tim North QC expressed his congratulations to Erik Denison and to all involved in this ground-breaking research.

For the first time in Super Rugby history, Melbourne Rebels, in conjunction with Rugby Victoria, will host the inaugural Pride Round during the Round 15 Super Rugby Clash against the NSW Waratahs at AAMI Park on May 31. More details will be announced by the Rebels in coming weeks.