Young rugby players are using on-field homophobic slurs to get a laugh and fit in with their peers, new Victorian research shows.
A Monash University survey of under-18 rugby players found most were not homophobic but regarded their comments as normal.
The university's LGBTI Sport Inclusion Project lead researcher Erik Denison said the teenagers' main motivation for using terms like "fag" and "poof" was a desire to fit in and be accepted in the team.
"I had a perception that sport was likely filled with more homophobes than general society - that it was a bastion of homophobia - but that is not what we found," Mr Denison told AAP.
"These boys were using it ... completely thoughtlessly. They don't really mean any malice towards gay people, they believe there are no gay people on their team so they are not harming anyone by using this language."
About 75 per cent of the 323 teenage rugby players surveyed had heard teammates using the slurs, with more than half confessing to using the language.
Yet more than 80 per cent of the youths said they'd stop others bullying a gay teammate, and almost half had close gay friends, the survey results found.
Education is key to stamping out the language and professional players can help, according to Mr Denison.
"It is not a rugby problem. It is a male team sport problem," Mr Denison said.
"We really, really need to professional players to step up here ... they need to go into the clubs and change their culture. By going into the clubs they are literally saving the lives of gay kids - they take their life at a four times higher rate than straight kids - and we know homophobic language is a key part (of that).
"The sports themselves need to start taking this seriously, it can't be tokenistic gestures."
All under-18 teams in South Australia and Victoria took part in the study, which will be presented to the World Congress of Sociology in Sport in New Zealand.
Australian Associated Press