This Saturday, the fourth ever pride game will be held by a Victorian rugby club when Endeavour Hills will host Melbourne University in a Pride Cup.
Pride Games (also called Pride Cups) began being held by Victoria field hockey clubs in 2011, but it wasn't until they were adopted by AFL/Netball clubs in 2014 that their popularity exploded.
Over the last decade, hundreds of community and professional clubs have held pride games around Australia in dozens of sports.
Why are Pride Games held?
Pride Games were designed to be a vehicle to raise awareness of the serious harm caused by homophobic language in sport.
Children who are exposed to homophobic language are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and are about twice as likely to self-harm. Homophobic bullying and insults similarly harm the mental health of heterosexual boys. Read more here.
In addition, jokes about gay people or using words like “fag” make LGBTQ+ children feel unsafe and unwelcome in playing sport. This is illustrated by the results of surveys which Monash University conducted with all U18 and colts teams in Victoria.
Our research found just 1% of male rugby players reported being gay, bisexual, or unsure. For context, high-school data suggests that up to 15% of young people now identify as ‘not exclusively heterosexual.’
Is language a problem in rugby?
Yes. It is a serious problem.
Research by Monash found 78% of U18 and colts players had heard their teammates use words like “fag” in the previous two weeks. Alarmingly, 59% of these players self-reported they had used this language.
This language is rarely used to express “hate” or “homophobia,” but this doesn’t matter, it is still harmful.
We have found rugby players typically use this language before or after games, at social events, or in ‘group chats’ as part of banter. Read more about the motivations here.
Do Pride Games help?
Yes. Monash conducted two separate, peer-reviewed studies and both found players at clubs that host pride games use about 50% less homophobic language than players at clubs which have never hosted a pride game.
In addition, players at clubs that have hosted pride games use less sexist and racist language. Importantly, the research found no other differences between the clubs that could explain the differences in homophobic language (e.g. homophobia, ethnicity or religiousness of players)
However, tese games only seem to benefit the clubs that host the games. There appears to be now measurable benefit to opposition teams (read more here). Furthermore, players at clubs must to be actively involved in the event, such as through wearing rainbow socks. Playing in a pride game seems to help players to notice their habitual behaviour.
For example, in one of the Monash studies, a player said he used a homophobic slur while wearing a rainbow-themed uniform and playing in a pride game. He described the ‘shock’ from this as being similar to swearing in front of his grandmother; something he would never do twice.
For this player, being part of the pride game made him notice language that was habitual and helped him understand the harm.
It is important that all rugby clubs in Victoria adopt pride games and similar initiatives such as the inaugural Respect Women game hosted by the Rams last weekend.
We believe these types of events create opportunities for captains as well as coaches, and club leaders to have important conversation about behavioural expectations and the kind of culture they want at their club.
Endeavour Hills will host Melbourne University this Saturday, 30 July, in a Pride Cup.
This article was written by by Erik Denison and Richard Pringle, Faculty of Education, Monash University