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Research challenges 'misperceptions about the sexuality of female rugby players'

By Kim Ekin
Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

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New research conducted in partnership with Harlequins says that nearly half of women’s rugby players say homophobic and sexist jokes deter girls from playing the sport.

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The research also “challenges common misperceptions about the sexuality of female rugby players”, Quins have said in a statement.

Harlequins and The Harlequins Foundation partnered with experts from Australia’s Monash University to conduct the survey, believed to be one of the first of its kind in womens’ sport.

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The results have been released ahead of Harlequins’ third-annual LGBTQ+ Pride-themed game tomorrow.

KEY FINDINGS:

– 55 per cent of women and girls agreed that “many women feel unwelcome to play rugby because of the jokes and negative language some people use about women”

– 37 per cent heard homophobic slurs at their club in the last year and 59 per cent heard sexist slurs and negative jokes about women

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– 15 per cent reported they had been the victim of verbal homophobic abuse at their club

– 88 per cent said people “often” incorrectly assume that they are lesbians because they play rugby (15 per cent actually identified as gay or bisexual)

– 79 per cent want negative banter about women to stop in rugby, and 80% want homophobic banter to stop (the earlier research by the Harlequins found 65% of men wanted sexist/homophobic banter to stop)

Players were also interviewed as part of the research. Beth and Jo [Joanne] Evans, sisters and co-captain the women’s team at Sutton and Epsom, both said that they have suffered different forms of discrimination in rugby.

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“I love playing women’s rugby because it is incredibly supportive of people of all sexualities and gender identities. I feel as though my teammates can be their true selves without fear of judgement from one another said,” said Beth Evans, who is straight but who is attending the Harlequins event to support her sister Jo, who is gay. “But when people make assumptions about women who play rugby or tell homophobic jokes it harms everyone.”

Jo Evans concurred, noting: “We still struggle to be accepted and be treated equally by others in rugby and I often wonder whether people who buy into the stereotypes or tell casual jokes about us believe that “real” women and girls would not want to play rugby, so we must all be lesbians or want to be like men.”

Marc Leckie, Head of the Harlequins Foundation said, “Sport is a powerful vehicle for change and The Harlequins Foundation is formed on a belief that it should be accessible and welcoming to everyone. It has been a privilege to support this important research. We feel strongly that rugby should be a sport for all and at Harlequins we are proud to promote our sport as an inclusive and safe space. The findings tell us there is still much work to be done to make rugby more inclusive and welcoming. We are looking forward to using the results to drive the conversation, which will, in the end only make the sport better for everyone.”

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