Homophobia is alive and well in the world of cricket

By Paula Gerber

At World Cup cricket match on in Sydney on 8 March, between Sri Lanka and Australia, a Sri Lankan supporter waved a sign branding Australian cricketer Glen Maxwell a “fag”, in Sinhalese. The fan’s homophobic slur was certainly shocking, but even worse was the lack of any reaction in the mainstream media. Only the gay press considered such an incident newsworthy (here and here).

Contrast this with the media storm that followed Brian Taylor referring to a Geelong player as a “poofter”.

What accounts for this difference? Is it that the AFL is subjected to greater media scrutiny than cricket? Is it that the AFL quickly comes out and condemns homophobic attacks, whereas Cricket Australia remained silent when faced with the incident this week? Or is it that there are different tolerance levels for hate speech and vilification within these two sporting codes?

Given the AFL’s recent moves to stamp out homophobia, it does seem that the answer may lie in cultural differences between cricket and AFL. It is therefore timely to ask ‘What can Cricket Australia learn from the AFL when it comes to tackling homophobic abuse?’

The AFL’s journey to enlightenment began many years ago. In 2009, players were part of a social media campaign in support of IDAHO (International Day Against Homophobia). This has been continued in subsequent years, with players agreeing not to use homophobic slurs and asking their fans to do the same.

AFL players launch #FOOTY4IDAHO
AFL players launch #FOOTY4IDAHO

The AFL was also a founding supporter of the No To Homophobia campaign, and in the 2012 final season, screened No To Homophobia ads on the scoreboards at ANZ Stadium and the MCG.

And last weekend, the AFL organised the first Pride Cup match between Sydney and Fremantle (Sydney won) as part of the NAB Challenge. Now St Kilda is  pushing for a permanent fixture celebrating sexual diversity during the AFL premiership season.

Apparently, the push to have a gay pride round that celebrates sexual diversity came from one of the AFL’s major sponsors, NAB.

So what about the major sponsors of the Australian cricket team (Commonwealth Bank, Victoria Bitter [owned by Carlton & United Breweries, a subsidiary of the Foster’s Group] and KFC)? Are they pushing for cricket to become a high profile supporter of efforts to stamp our homophobia in sport?

There is some evidence to suggest that the Commonwealth Bank is putting pressure on Cricket Australia to become proactive in stamping out homophobia in this sport. Last year, when the four football codes committed themselves to adopting an anti-homophobia policy developed by the Australian Human Rights Commission, Cricket Australia was nowhere to be seen. It belatedly did an about face, after news of its refusal to adopt the policy broke, and following “the encouragement of its long-term sponsor, the Commonwealth Bank.”

While the Commonwealth Bank seems to be making the right noises, the same cannot be said for Cricket Australia’s other sponsors, some of whom have found themselves involved in controversies over homophobic slurs. For example, in 2012, the Advertising Standards Bureau ruled that Carlton & United Brewers was responsible for user-uploaded content on the official Facebook page of Victoria Bitter which was found to be sexist, homophobic and obscene.

There is little information available about KFC’s position on homophobia in Australia. However, a couple of years ago, one of KFC’s commercials in the United States sparked controversy, with its calls to ‘man up’ considered by many to be an attack on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

Perhaps these sponsors have been working quietly behind the scenes to try to persuade Cricket Australia to become a high profile supporter of efforts to combat homophobia. But if that is the case, it does not appear that their efforts are enjoying much success.

The English cricket team had a player come out as gay in 2011 (wicket keeper, Steven Davies). In Australia, the only cricket player to come out as been Alex Blackwell, a member of the national women’s cricket team.

It is definitely time for Cricket Australia to start to seriously address homophobia in sport. It does not have to reinvent the wheel. It not only has the experience of the AFL to learn from, but also ‘how to’ resources such as Fair Go Sport developed by the Victorian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

We will continue to see foul placards like that held up by the Sri Lankan fan at this week’s match until such time as the leadership of Cricket Australia and the players start to publically condemn homophobia in sport and in life.

Paula Gerber is Deputy Director of the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law and an Associate Professor at the Monash University Faculty of Law. She specialises in international human rights law generally, with a particular focus on children’s rights and gay rights, including same-sex marriage.

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