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Researchers investigate reactions on Facebook when Team GB became Team LGBT


Researchers at the University of Wolverhampton, together with Olympic Gold Medallists and married couple, Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh, have been investigating whether a Team GB initiative intended to show public support for LGBTQ+ athletes has worked.  

On 9 December 2020, in support of the Stonewall Rainbow Laces Campaign, Team GB changed their Facebook page logo for 24 hours to ‘Team LGBT+’. The following message accompanied this change: “Sport should be for everyone. Today, in support of #RainbowLacesDay and Stonewall, we are Team LGBT+. Equality is what makes us.” This one-day event was extensively discussed on Facebook and the researchers have now analysed the reactions of 376 different users.  

The research group, based in the University’s Faculty of Education, Health and Wellbeing, found that whilst a minority (51 of 376) of fans were explicitly against the Day in principle, 71 showed explicit support, most implied support, and none were openly hostile to the LGBTQ+ community. The arguments against Team LGBT Day could be easily addressed by explaining the purpose of the event. The analysis will be submitted for publication in an academic journal in August 2021. 

Professor of Applied Sport and Exercise Science, Tracey Devonport, leading the team of researchers, said: “The last thing that the Team GB athletes now competing in the Olympics in Japan need is to be worrying about fans undermining them on the basis of who they are. Our research is driven by a desire to better understand public perceptions of equality and diversity initiatives, identifying sources of public appreciation and concerns in order to inform recommendations for future initiatives.  

“One recommendation from this research is the need to make clear that highlighting support for a group on one day, for example, LGBTQ+, does not undermine the difficulties that other groups face. A second recommendation, that highlighting the challenges faced by a particular group will pre-emptively address the question 'why is this campaign needed'.” 


Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh said: “We have both still faced much direct and discreet homophobia over the years but acts of public support like Team LGBT day do make a difference.  

“This research paper and its findings has important ramifications for future campaigns supporting the LGBTQ+ community. As former GB athletes we are supportive of acts of allyship to marginalised communities from those who hold central power and control. 

“To ignore our differences whether that be sexuality, skin colour, ethnicity, disability, age or religion is to cast aside our beauty and our greatest asset. We are the same but different. This should be celebrated and leveraged on. However, we find ourselves in a place where hate crime is on the rise against many marginalised people. Civil and human rights are under attack across the globe as those in power continue to create division through laws and legislation."   

Professor Tracey Devonport is Professor of Applied Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Wolverhampton.  

She leads the Sport and Physical Activity Research Centre at the University of Wolverhampton. Her professional outputs include 65 papers published in peer reviewed academic journals, 3 books, 14 book chapters, and 11 professional papers. She is also a registered Sport and Exercise Psychologist with the Health Care Professions Council. Other certifications include: Chartered Psychologist with the British Psychological Society, accredited with the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES) for scientific support (Psychology) and a Chartered Scientist. She was made a Fellow of BASES in 2015. She has provided services as an accredited sport psychology consultant for more than 20 years, predominantly working with junior national athletes in sports such as Tennis, Swimming, Badminton, Judo, Hockey, and Netball.  

Kate Richardson-Walsh and Helen Richardson-Walsh won Olympic Gold Medals for field hockey in Rio 2106 as well as numerous other international medals. Kate’s playing career included 375 national appearances, including being GB and England Captain for 13 years. Helen played 294 times for GB and England and scored one of the two winning penalties in the Olympic final against the Netherlands in Rio.  

The other members of the research team from the University of Wolverhampton are Dr Kay Biscomb who researches media representation, equality and identity issues in sport, Dr Kathryn Leflay, a Senior Lecturer and Course Leader for Sport Culture, Media and Development and Professor Mike Thelwall, a Data Scientist. 

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