Social Science blog

Exploring Social Science at the British Library

13 December 2012

Sport? That's so gay!

Simone Bacchini writes:

It sometimes feels like the case for sport as a vehicle for social change is a bit overstated. Yet, the announcement that London has bid to host the 2018 Gay Games ( might be, well, a game changer.

The Gay Games was started in San Francisco, in 1982. Originally, it was called “Gay Olympics” but a lawsuit filed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) meant that the name had to be changed. To date, there have been eight editions, mostly held in North America. The Gay Games is the world’s largest sporting and cultural event organised by and for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual) community. Participation, however, is not restricted to athletes who identify as LBGT and, according to its statute, the label includes transgender, transsexual, intersex, queer, questioning people, and of course, an essential constituency for change: straight allies.”

Sporting events for minority groups, some of them facing varying degrees of discrimination have a double function. The strengthen in-group identity, by bringing together those who might feel isolated in the wider society in which they live. They also offer a chance of visibility, often helping dispel negative stereotypes.

Sport is one of the favourite arenas in which socially approved norms of gender behaviour are displayed, learned, and reinforced. So, it is often the case that gay men are not associated with sporting prowess, while women who engage in sport, especially the more “unfeminine” ones – such as boxing – are more or less overtly thought of, “accused”, I am tempted to say, being lesbians. Which of course may or may not be true.

Obviously, for many LGBT people sport has never been an issue: they simply aren’t interested. But for many others the world of competitive sports has been a difficult, often frightening one. For the non-heterosexual person, especially when young, the playing field and the locker rooms can feel like no-go areas, unless you’re not open about your sexuality or this is not obvious. And that’s a shame, frankly.

The Paralympics has been an important tool in changing views of and attitudes towards disability. Could the Gay Games do the same for homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenderism, etc? More visibility would certainly be good, although it remains to be seen the extent to which the media would be covering the event. And would attitudes be changed in Britain, if London were to win the bid? Well, that’s a research topic for existing and aspiring social scientists and sociologists of sport out there. The future of sport may look a bit pinker, after 2018!




Journal of Homosexuality. Binghampton: Haworth.

London Reference Collection: SPIS Journals Display (open access)


Anderson, E. (2009). Inclusive Masculinity: The Changing Nature of Masculinities. London: Routledge.

General Reference Collection: SPIS306.7662 (open access)


Symons, C. (2010). The Gay Games: A History. London: Routledge.

Document Supply: m11/.11320



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