Former Wallabies captain David Pocock has urged professional athletes to "live the inclusion policy on the field" after a global study revealed 87 per cent of young gay athletes in Australia feel forced to hide their sexuality.
More than half of those involved in the study feared being openly gay would lead to bullying while 37 per cent were concerned about discrimination from coaches or officials.
Pocock is passionate about equal rights for the gay and lesbian community and has taken the stance that he won't get married until same-sex marriage laws are changed.
He became the central figure of a homophobia in sport issue when he alerted the referee to a slur made by a NSW Waratahs player on the field in March.
Waratahs forward Jacques Potgieter admitted to using the word "faggot" to sledge Brumbies players and was fined $10,000 by the ARU.
ACT Brumbies star Pocock was horrified by statistics revealed by Fairfax Media on Sunday, and Australia's major sporting codes – the AFL, NRL, rugby union, cricket and soccer – have signed a Pride in Sport index.
Pocock was an ambassador for the Bingham Cup – the gay rugby World Cup – and likened homophobia to racism.
"It's no longer acceptable in public life or sport to make a racist comment," Pocock said.
"I put this in the exact same category and we're starting to realise and understand just how damaging it is.
"When you run out your state or territory, you're representing every young player or supporter.
"If we say we're not accepting racism or homophobia, you have to live it out on the field, which is often pretty hard."
Pocock praised the Sydney Convicts – Australia's first gay rugby club – and Bingham Cup president Andrew Purchase for their work towards sports being more inclusive.
"They are doing amazing work in starting to change the sporting landscape," Pocock said.
The "Out on the Fields" study was commissioned by organisers of the Bingham Cup.
It's the largest study of its kind and surveyed almost 10,000 people across all ages in Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada, Britain and Ireland.
Gay and lesbian youth have higher rates of suicide attempts than their straight peers, largely as a result of discrimination.
The Pride in Sport index will deliver annual rankings on how gay-friendly sports are, with support from the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Australian Sports Commission.
"These stats don't lie, it's pretty awful to think that it's up to 85 per cent, that's horrendous [that gay and lesbian athletes] have been subject to homophobia," Pocock said.
"The first step is more education through all levels of the game.
"Society is taking a shift … You've got to use every avenue available. This sort of education, formalised education, talking about it as a team. We've done it at the Brumbies. It's pretty awful statistics."
OUT IN THE FIELDS STUDY
16 to 22-year-olds who hide their sexuality from teammates