New research has raised concern over the continued use of homophobic language among young Kiwi and Australian rugby players – despite New Zealand Rugby's push for zero tolerance and public backlash from the Israel Folau saga.

Folau's rugby career was left hanging in the balance following his most recent anti-gay social media post which sparked outrage in the rugby and wider sporting community.

The Wallabies star was slammed by both players and fans over his anti-gay stance, creating the illusion that his comments were out of the ordinary.

However, research conducted by Melbourne's Monash University - which is set to be presented at the World Congress of Sociology of Sport in Dunedin tomorrow - has proven otherwise.


The research found that 75 per cent of the Kiwi and Australian teenage rugby players surveyed had heard words such as "fag" and "poof" used in the past two weeks, with 53% per cent of them admitting to having used the slurs themselves.

Monash University Social Sciences researchers Erik Denison. Photo / Supplied
Monash University Social Sciences researchers Erik Denison. Photo / Supplied

The study's lead researcher Erik Denison said the findings shed light on the ongoing issue of homophobic language in sport and the devastating effects it can have.

"There is an alarming number of players and coaches using the language," Denison told the Herald. "Coaches, especially, are normalising the language.

"It creates an environment and culture that is not fun and is one of the main reasons gay and straight people leave the sport.

"It's not banter. It's harmful and we need to focus on the harm it can cause."

In 2016, NZR linked up with the country's leading sporting organisations to encourage greater diversity in an effort to stamp out homophobia in sport.

Becoming the first sporting body to earn the Rainbow Tick, NZR signalled its ongoing intentions to be more inclusive.

But with no relationship between homophobia and homophobic language being found in the new study, Denison said the findings would assist organisations such as NZR in tackling the issue with the right approach.


"Instead of focusing on prejudice or ending homophobia, we can focus on educating players about the harm caused by the language so it is no longer seen as normal and harmless.

"Homophobic language, historically, is common in men's sport and will continue unless it is short-circuited.

"It's not about ending homophobia. It's changing the thoughtless and harmful language that is considered normal."

Rugby leaders across New Zealand and Australia are set to use the research in developing new programs to implement in 2020, which could include initiatives such as pride games.