Durham sport teams forced to apologise for defining ‘nonce’ as homophobic chant

The new guidelines stated that homophobic chanting including ‘nonce’ and ‘rent boy’ will not be tolerated


Team Durham has received backlash after defining “nonce” as homophobic in an updated College Sport Code of Conduct for Spectators.

The new guidelines stated that homophobic chanting, such as using the terms “nonce” and “rent boy” will not be tolerated following their distribution in Michaelmas term.

A statement has since been released by the director of student enrichment, explaining that there was “no intention to cause offence” and have stated they will contact Durham Students’ Union to change the Code appropriately, Palatinate reports.

The College Sport Code of Conduct for Spectators was implemented last year following a swathe of complaints about “concerning” behaviours from spectators. Accounts of physical violence, drunken pitch invasions and public urination were recalled from a rugby match between Castle and Hatfield in February 2022. Fans from both colleges earned themselves a joint top spot as Team Durham’s most embarrassing uncle, as well as bans for the rest of the season.

Spectators were also barred from attending a Floodlit Van Mildert football match after claims that “Van Mildert supporters repeatedly shouted ‘paedophile’, and sung chants referring to sexual abuse”.

Representatives from Durham Student Union, Deborah Achaempong, Welfare and Liberation Officer, and Dan Lonsdale, President, told Palatinate that the definition of “nonce” had been flagged as problematic during a committee meeting and that it would be amended before publication.

They said: “Nonce is not a homophobic slur and any suggestion that it might be is in itself entirely homophobic, reductive and offensive to the community that such a document seeks to protect in the first place – points which were raised within the meeting. Such behaviour from official university leadership does not set a good precedent.

“We hope Team Durham will amend the document and continue to treat such matters with greater attention and care.”

The guidelines also stipulated that “paedophile” and “paedo” were included in the list of terms considered homophobic, following “extensive consultation.”

Quentin Sloper, Director of Student Enrichment at Durham University, said: “We do not tolerate any form of abuse or intimidation within our University community. 

“The College Sport Code of Conduct for Spectators was put in place, following extensive consultation with our student leaders, to help address concerning behaviours by some spectators at sports matches, particularly College floodlit fixtures. 

“There was no intention to cause offence. It is pleasing that since the Code’s introduction, along with other measures, there have been no reported behavioural concerns at College floodlit fixtures this academic year.  

“We believe this clearly demonstrates the positive impact the Code has had on spectators’ behaviour. 

“We remain open to reviewing the Code where appropriate – the intention has always been to review and refresh it, with our student leaders, at least every year.  

“In the light of the views shared with Palatinate, we will contact Durham Students’ Union to understand what changes to the Code officers feel are appropriate.  

“We will consider any proposals with colleagues in the University’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Unit.”  

The response has been met with further criticism, however. In comments left below Palatinate’s article, one student wrote: “It’s a disgustingly blasé and ironic response to what is either thinly veiled homophobia or gross incompetence.”

Another condemned the university’s inability to correct the Code in the first place and commented a rebuttal in jest: “I thought they did try to cause offence!”

The issue had originally been brought to light by a student in an anonymous Durfess post, which wrote: “MC and Team Durham classing Nonce, a word which means someone who commits predatory sexual crime or activity, as homophobic is one of the most implicitly homophobic things I’ve ever seen. The idea of predatory homosexuality is clearly very alive in these people’s heads to get the ops so wrong when trying to do right.”

Common Room Presidents and College sports club captains were involved in the drafting of the College Sport Code of Conduct for Spectators, designed to promote inclusivity, as part of the “extensive consultation” process leading up to publication.

The new code attempts to tackle the increasingly reckless drinking culture in Team Durham. Last academic year, alcohol consumption from Maiden Castle bar was restricted to sporting grounds only. At the same time, the new guidelines ask spectators instead to refrain from taking alcohol onto the side of the pitch. The change ousts “homophobic, racist or misogynistic” chants and behaviours that are “anti-social in nature and targeted towards individuals”.

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