Sport and sportsmen and women influence society in many ways from the exceptional discipline needed to be successful to the way well-regarded sporting personalities interact with each other, their fans and the general public and crucially how minority sectors in society treated in the world of sport. How the disabled, LGBT and other races are regarded within sport appears to be variable. The Para-Olympics and Invictus games and the increasing media prominence of these sporting displays demonstrates that the disabled are embraced, a variety of different races seem to successfully be able to take part in all sport, although it is fair to say that there are still those who are racially prejudiced but in general all races are accepted. The one area of society that does not enjoy tolerance is the gay sector; there is a marked lack of acceptance in many sports and patchy acceptance in others.
The Welsh rugby team supported Gareth Thomas, the former Welsh rugby international, following a homophobic attack on him whilst he watched his national team. The French national team immediately sent a message of support and vowed to wear rainbow laces in their test match against Fiji in Paris. Whilst the women's rugby team will wear them as a gesture of support and New Zealand also said their national side will wear rainbow laces in their match against Italy
However the England –v- Australia game did not see all the England players wearing the laces. This was not intended to be a snub to Gareth Thomas, apparently, the laces were not as comfortable as the usual laces as they are thicker and longer. One of the England team pointed out that there are only two things that are the personal choice of the players, their gum shield and their boots and all professional sportsmen and women are very particular about their kit. Frank Underhill, a flanker, was keen to emphasise that the fact that not all the team chose to change their laces was not in any way an indication of lack of support. Gareth Thomas was overwhelmed by the public support shown by the overseas national rugby teams.
Other sports such as athletics, seem to have a more inclusive attitude towards LGBT participants and Novak Djokovic has said he would welcome an openly gay tennis player on the men's professional tour. To date, tennis has no openly gay male participants on the world stage but has had LGBT players in the past, notably Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova.
Stonewall, the lobbying organisation for the LGBT sector with its rallying call "together we can make sport everyone's game", is now calling for fans and athletes to be 'active allies' and to take action to support LGBT people in sport through this year's Rainbow Laces campaign. Stonewall's Director of Sport, said: "Sport is one of our strongest tools for social change, which is why it's so powerful to see so many people wanting to do more to support LGBT people and challenge anti-LGBT abuse in sport". Research tells us that 62% the public would be happy to see more LGBT sportsmen and women, however, only 25% of people who witnessed homophobic abuse at a sporting event would feel confident enough to intervene.
There has been progress made with regard to inclusion in all areas of society but if there is to be a true balance where individuals can feel completely comfortable in the workplace and during their leisure time the belief that certain sectors of society can be openly attacked must change.
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