Just when the signs were there that homophobia in sport was being addressed, we get this: “Maxwell is a fag”.
A Sri Lankan cricket fan waved the placard during his team’s World Cup qualifier clash with Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
The sign read “Maxwell Ponnaya” – which roughly translates as “Maxwell is a fag”.
A Cricket Australia spokesman said they took a zero tolerance approach to homophobic attitudes and behaviour of players, spectators and staff.
“In regards to the sign at the SCG on Sunday, Cricket Australia and the International Cricket Council take a zero-tolerance approach towards anti-social behavior,” he said.
“If we are aware of such behaviour (in this case because the reference was made in Sinhalese it was not picked up during the match), the banner and patron will be immediately removed from the ground.”
Dhyan Ranatunga, son of former Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga, said: “A lot of people seem to see the ‘joke’ in this, but I’m having trouble seeing this so-called ‘joke’.
“Cricket is supposed to be the ‘gentlemen’s game’, and this certainly isn’t an act of any ‘gentleman’.”
Aritha Wickramasinghe, a lawyer at an international law firm, said homophobia in sport was something that all cricket loving nations must get together to tackle.
“Using gay slurs such as this at a World Cup is insensitive and insulting to the millions of young gay men and women that endure discrimination and violence because of who they chose to love,” he said.
“As a Sri Lankan cricket lover, I am ashamed of fans like this. This is not funny and it certainly isn’t cricket.”
Heads of the AFL, NRL, Australian Rugby Union and Cricket Australia came together in Sydney recently to sign an unprecedented commitment to eliminate discrimination against gay, lesbian and bisexual players, coaches, administrators and fans in their sport.
A 30-second community service announcement, being be aired nationally this year on TV and at stadiums, features bowling stars Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris.
It is much needed as a study has found that 80% of Australians have witnessed or experienced homophobia in sport.
The study, conducted by research outfit Out on the Fields, also found that 27% of Australian gay men and 17% of lesbians had received verbal threats of harm.
“Australia should be proud in terms of the fact that we have the highest participation rates, in any of the English speaking countries, in sport, for both gay and lesbian people,” said Erik Denison, spokesman for the internationally successful rugby team the Sydney Convicts.
“But then you look at the instances of abuse and homophobia, we’re near the top.”
The study coincided with last weekend’s Mardi Gras parade in Sydney, with the leading floats dedicated to fighting homophobia in sports.
Athletes taking part in the parade included Olympians Daniel Kowalski, Jai Wallace and Matthew Mitcham, Sydney Swans’ Nick Smith, Mike Pike and Heath Grundy, NRL’s Paul Langmack, Australian national cricketer Alex Blackwell and teammate Ellyse Perry.
“It was absolutely sensational,” Langmack told NRL.com.
“It’s a celebration, the Mardi Gras. There was no aggression, no anger and it was great fun. The messages are only going to get stronger too in that people are going to stand by you and say ‘mate, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, gay or straight, everyone’s there to stand by each other’.”
Langmack also saw the importance in his presence and the message the float was sending – that gay and lesbian people should be included in sporting circles and that they should be supported and encouraged to participate.