SYDNEY (Reuters) - Holding professional sports games with diversity themes, such as LGBT rights, can help change the discriminatory behaviour of athletes, according to an academic study released by an Australian university on Thursday.
Themed matches and rounds of matches in sports leagues around issues such as racism, sexism and homophobia have become increasingly popular in recent years, particularly in North America.
The study led by Melbourne's Monash University looked at the impact of LGBT pride themed ice hockey games on athletes and found that players who took part were less likely to use homophobic slurs.
"Players who used homophobic slurs during a pride match said it felt like they were swearing in front of their grandmothers,” said lead author Erik Denison of the Monash School of Social Sciences.
"The games seem to help athletes notice their language and become aware of the harm it could cause. We were surprised the games could have this effect on language because most diversity education programmes fail to change behaviours."
The study surveyed players from eight teams in the semi-professional Australian Ice Hockey League and asked them about their use of, and exposure to, homophobic language.
It found that players that took part in the LGBT-themed matches were around 20% less likely to have used a homophobic slur over the previous two weeks compared to athletes who did not take part in the contest.
Further, the athletes who took part in the themed game were 15% less likely to have heard one of their team mates use homophobic language in the previous two weeks.
A 2015 international report "Out On The Fields", co-authored by Denison, found that 80% of people of all sexualities had witnessed or experienced homophobia in a sporting environment.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford)