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Sexuality and Gender Perspectives on Sports Ethics

Prepared by: Christine May, Senior Research Consultant, Clearinghouse for Sport
Reviewed by: Australasian Sport Information Network
Last updated: 13 October 2020
Content disclaimer: See Clearinghouse for Sport disclaimer

Sport is often perceived as embodying positive values and morals, such as cooperation, mutual respect, fair play, and equality. However, it also has the potential to reflect undesirable values and unethical behaviours that divide society.

Discrimination that is based upon gender and/or sexual identity affects the fundamental integrity of sport and is often linked to other integrity issues such as violence, harassment or abuse. The term ‘integrity’ can take on different meanings in different environments, but in a sporting context it is understood to be ‘respect for oneself and others, moral responsibility and accountability.’ Integrity and ethical concerns may differ across sports, age levels, and systems (participation or elite sport).

Key messages

Gender

Evidence suggests that gender stereotypes contribute to young women dropping out of sport participation because women in sport are often seen as being non-feminine. Similarly, men who do not fulfill the 'masculine' stereotype have reported feeling intimidated and excluded from sports participation.

Sexuality

More than half of gay, lesbian or bisexual sport participants conceal their sexuality from their team/club and report feeling unwelcome. Gay men are most likely to feel unsafe and less likely to play team sports. The majority of people (of any sexuality) report frequent homophobic and discriminatory comments, especially in team sport environments.

Inclusion

The Australian Sex Discrimination Act 1984 states that children aged under 12 years cannot be excluded on the basis of sex or gender identity from participating in competitive sporting activities; people of one gender aged 12 and over can be excluded if strength, stamina, or physique of competitors is relevant.

Topic focus

Sex and gender
Sport is widely seen as an arena in which highly stereotypical views are held regarding what it means to be ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’.

Sexual orientation
Sport can be a site of discrimination on the basis of someone’s (known or assumed) sexuality or gender identity.

Gender determination and sports competition
Gender verification and eligibility to compete in sport competitions.

Transgender people and sport
‘Transgender’ is a general term used to describe a person whose gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth.

Sexual harassment and abuse
All forms of harassment are serious and should be dealt with by the respective sport governing organisations.

Competition structures
Single sex, mixed or open

Sexploitation in sport
Various terms can be used to describe the sexualising of athletes (particularly female athletes), ‘sexploitation’ is one of the most common.

International practice
International examples of fair play, and equality.

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