THE BLOG

Sport Needs Positive Role Models

04/12/2015 17:47 GMT | Updated 04/12/2016 10:12 GMT

We were extremely disappointed and shocked by the BBC's decision to nominate Tyson Fury for Sports Personality of the Year.

Sportspeople occupy a very powerful position. They are idolised by their fans and not just for their sporting prowess. Young football fans often sport the same haircut as their favourite players. Ardent supporters will jump in to defend their sporting hero if anyone should so much as question their ability.

Sportsmen and women are role models, and their views and opinions on everything, from fashion to politics, are respected and repeated by many of their fans.

So when a sporting star makes offensive comments, equating same-sex attraction to child abuse, it has far-reaching consequences.

Homophobia has long been a barrier to the participation of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people in sport.

Shockingly, seven in ten fans have heard homophobic chanting on football terraces. We also know that 63% of gay and bi men and 38% of lesbians and bi women expect to experience homophobia or biphobia if they take part in a team sport.

Thankfully there are gains being made.

We have recently witnessed two rugby players come out and be open about their sexual orientation. Keegan Hirst and Sam Stanley knew that by coming out they may have made it a little bit easier for someone else to. They understood that their personal lives are interesting to their fans and that their duties as role models extend beyond the touchline.

We recently awarded Nigel Owens Sports Person of the Decade in recognition of the fantastic role model he has been by being an openly gay rugby referee. His decision to come out no doubt forged the path for Keegan and Sam. And guess what, there are probably others.

Even some boxers are LGBT. Nicola Adams, heroine of London 2012, was the first openly LGBT person to win an Olympic boxing Gold medal.

We need these role models. They make our Rainbow Laces campaign to kick homophobia out of sport easier to achieve.

But our work is made harder when a sporting star uses their position to air their homophobic views. And our work is then made even harder when that person is nominated for a prestigious award. It sends a message that it's ok to be homophobic, biphobic and transphobic and that sport is somewhere that LGBT people aren't welcome.

Tyson Fury's comments also touched on another important area of our work. He claimed his views were rooted in the Bible. It's often assumed that people of faith can't be LGBT or respect LGBT people. By suggesting his homophobia is rooted in his faith he has helped perpetuate this damaging myth. There are many religious people who support LGBT people and there are many religious people who are LGBT. We work with leaders from diverse faiths, including many Christians, who are keen to know how they can support LGBT people in their communities. Mr Fury's comments will have upset them deeply.

It is extremely unfair to drag someone's faith in to excuse the inexcusable.

As I said at the beginning, role models occupy priceless positions in our society. They have the power to change attitudes, whether they like it or not.

And we need attitudes to change in sport and we need to change attitudes about religion's rejection of LGBT people.

Sadly, some role models are actively working against us. Sadder still, they're being celebrated.