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Sports' fans have their say on same-sex marriage

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Call it the David Pocock effect. Rugby fans in Australia were the most likely to back their code coming out in support of same-sex marriage, while AFL tails off the list in a new survey on whether governing bodies were right to take a stance on the debate.

The survey of 1003 people, conducted by YouGov and Monash University's Behavioural Science Lab, found 56 per cent of those quizzed believed it was right for sporting organisations to pledge their public support for SSM.

Those that identified as highly engaged fans were very supportive of the positions taken by sporting bodies. But not all codes were equal.

Rugby topped the list with 74 per cent of its 'superfans' believing it was right for governing bodies to publicly support SSM. They were followed by 71 per cent (football), 66 per cent (cricket), 62 per cent (rugby league) and 61 per cent (AFL).

Former Wallaby Pocock was a proponent of the SSM movement before the postal plebiscite. Along with partner Emma Palandri, Pocock pledged not to get married until same-sex marriage became legal in Australia.

He said he was pleased to see sports fans largely united in supporting the major codes for taking a positive stance, even if the move was the cause of some debate about the lines between sports and politics.

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"Sport is at its best when it's challenging society to become more inclusive. It plays such a central role in many people's lives and can help play a big role in moving society forward," Pocock said.

"As a child growing up in southern Africa, seeing how President Mandela used the Rugby World Cup to try and unite a country so recently freed from apartheid, I've been keenly aware of this most of my life. 

"It is great to see that the majority of Australians, particularly fans of rugby, believe it was the right thing for sports bodies like the ARU to publicly support marriage equality. It's also encouraging that many people, even folks who voted 'No', agree that sport has an important role to play in starting conversations about important issues. 

"I think we are starting to see a real shift in society around issues of diversity and inclusion. I'm hopeful that when the results come out on Wednesday we will see a very clear majority of Australians supporting marriage equality and it can finally be written into law in Australia."

The survey did find a significant generational gap. While 71 per cent of millennials believed it was right for sporting organisations to support SSM, only 43 per cent of Baby Boomers agreed. The figure was 56 per cent in agreeance for Gen X.

Erik Denison, lead researcher for Monash's Sport Inclusion Project, said the overwhelmingly positive response came as some surprise.

"We were initially quite surprised to see so much support from sport fans for the actions taken by the sports. If you looked only at the social media accounts of the major sports, such as the AFL or ARU, it seemed like there was a very strong backlash from fans," Mr Denison said.

"It appears, from this research, that the many negative social media comments are not reflective of the views of the majority of sport fans."

He also said their research indicated that Australia's major sporting bodies were the first in history to make such a move.

"Australian sports made history with their public support for same-sex marriage. But it is not the first time they have made history, recently, in their advocacy for gay people.

"Over the last few years Australian sporting organisations have become international leaders in efforts to tackle homophobia and make sporting culture more inclusive for LGBTI people.

"While many Australians might have been surprised to see the sports advocating for the rights of gay people to get married, this has become normal to their core fan base.

"This may explain why the core fans are supportive of the public stance taken by the sports on same-sex marriage. The core sport fans are also in the best position to know if these activities have delivered benefits to their sports."

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