For debate in the Standing Committee — see Rule 15 of the Rules of Procedure
21 November 2003
Lesbians and gays in sport
Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men
Rapporteuse: Mrs Kósá-Kovács, Hungary, Socialist Group
I. Conclusions by the Committee
1. The Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men fully supports the report and the draft recommendation presented by the Committee on Culture, Science and Education. To emphasize the role of the media in fighting homophobia and the importance of the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women in sports the Committee proposes the following amendment:
After paragraph 8, add a new paragraph worded as follows:
“The Assembly encourages the media to depict fairly and accurately the strength and competence of female and male athletes, whatever their sexual orientation, to refrain from using sexist language and gender stereotypes while covering sports events and to elaborate a code of conduct for sports commentators.”
II. Explanatory memorandum
1. The problems lesbians and gays face in sport was brought to the attention of the Assembly by a motion for a recommendation presented by Mrs Ans Zwerver in 2002 (Doc.9357).
2. The Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men welcomes the draft recommendation prepared by the Committee on Culture, Science and Education and appreciates the work of the Rapporteur, Mr Tony Banks, who conducted a substantial study of the problem at the European level.
3. It should be stressed that the problem of discrimination in sport was originally highlighted by Resolution 1092(1996) on discrimination against women in the field of sport and more particularly in the Olympic Games.
4. The Committee also recalls Assembly Recommendation 1474 (2000) on the situation of lesbians and gays in Council of Europe member states, which calls upon member states to take positive measures to combat homophobic attitudes, including in sports.
5. The present draft recommendation emphasizes the problem of homophobia in sport, which in fact puts a burden of double discrimination on some women in sport (discrimination on the ground of gender and sexual orientation).
6. The draft recommendation and the report prepared by the Committee on Culture, Science and Education stresses that “discrimination based on sexual orientation goes against the European Convention on Human Rights and its Protocol 12, Article 1 on the general prohibition of discrimination and is not acceptable in Council of Europe member states” (paragraph 3 of the draft recommendation).
7. Nevertheless, as shown in the explanatory memorandum by Mr Banks, the different sport federations in different European countries still tend to discriminate against female and male athletes on the grounds of homophobic prejudices.
8. Homophobia is defined as: “the irrational fear and intolerance of homosexuality, gay men or lesbians, and even behaviour that is perceived to be outside the boundaries of traditional gender role expectation.”2
9. Homophobia is used as a powerful tool to scare both homosexual and heterosexual women away from taking part in sports. Some women do not choose to participate in sports because they fear being labelled as lesbians. Homophobic attitudes continue to intimidate lesbian and bisexual athletes, coaches and administrators. The practical effect of such discrimination based on sexual orientation is to deny all female athletes a healthy and fulfilling sport experience and environment3 .
10. Sport is still considered a masculine domain in our society. Girls and women who do extremely well in sport are threats to a gender system that insists on an unequal social construction of womanhood and manhood4. And when women enter a “male“ playing field and the female athlete’s appearance differs from the feminine stereotype, the chance that she is labelled “lesbian” is even larger. Homophobia becomes a powerful political weapon of sexism. And for homosexuals in sport the situation is even more difficult.
11. It is also important to differentiate between homophobia and sexual harassment. Sexual harassment should be punished by law. Men or women, whether they participate in sport or not should not be subject to unwanted sexual advances from a member of either sex. Sexual harassment or even sexual assault by male coaches of female athletes is a significant problem in sports5. Rather than focus on the presence or absence of lesbians and gays in sports, society should focus on helping young people to know that they can turn down any unwanted advances and should not put up with sexual harassment from any source - male or female, homosexual or heterosexual.
12. The media should play a constructive role in the promotion of a positive image of women athletes; the media trade unions should work to eliminate myths and gender stereotypes in their coverage of sport events in order to change attitudes so that female athletes do not experience homophobia neither from the press nor from the general public.
13. The Committee proposes in its Amendment to encourage the mass-media to depict fairly and accurately the strength and competence of female and male athletes whatever their sexual orientation and to refrain from using sexist language and gender stereotypes while covering sport events. It is also necessary to pay attention to the role of sport commentators in promoting a positive non-sexist image of athletes. In this respect, a code of conduct for sport commentators could be elaborated by the competent media unions.
14. One should be conscious of the fact that the discrimination against homosexual athletes depends as much on the athlete’s reputation as on the environment where the sport is practiced, because the situation is not the same in the case of sport of competition or sport practiced in schools.
15. A major role in preventing discrimination in sport should be played by education. Young people should be educated to be tolerant and to evaluate people in athletics not on the base of their sexual orientation or their gender but on their individual character and accomplishments. In my view, it would also be important to train sports teachers in schools on how to deal with children developing a different sexual orientation and any resulting homophobia being displayed in class.
16. Sport is one of the most important socio-cultural learning environments in which young people participate. Society cannot tolerate individuals or the media instilling unwanted fears among young people and their parents that result in women choosing not to participate in sports.
17. As long as there are expectations for male and female children to participate in certain activities based upon their gender, equality between men and women will not be met.
18. This is why the Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men has just started working on the subject of “Discrimination against women and girls in sport” on the basis of a motion for a recommendation tabled by Mrs Aguiar, who has also just been appointed Rapporteur on this subject.
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Reporting committee: Committee on Culture, Science and Education
Committee seized for opinion: Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men
Reference to Committee: Doc 9357, reference N° 2702 of 26 March 2002
Opinion unanimously adopted by the Committee on 14 November 2003.
Secretaries of the Committee: Mrs Kleinsorge, Ms Kostenko
1 See Doc. 9988 tabled by the Committee on Culture, Science and Education.
2 Definition by Dr. Kari Fastin, Department of Social Science of the Norwegian University of Sport and Physical Education in Oslo.
3 Education Fund Project to Eliminate Homophobia in Sport, the Women’s Sports Foundation.
4 The Issue of Women in Sport, Jessica Padgett, http://serendip.brynmawr.edu.
5 Homophobia in Women’s Sports, Women’s Sports Foundation, http://www.womenssportsfoundation.org.