UK Sports Challenged to hold similar events after Australian gay team wins historic rugby game – International Rugby legends Gareth Thomas and John Eales call for end to discrimination.
Two international rugby legends are congratulating Australia’s first gay rugby union team for its decisive win during an historic game. They are also urging sports in the UK and around the world to do more to tackle homophobia in sport.
The Sydney Convicts were the first gay rugby team, and only the second gay team in the world, to play at a professional sporting event (the first was French soccer match in 2006).On Sunday, the Convicts beat the Macquarie University Warriors 30-12 during a ‘curtain raiser,’ a game held ahead of the international ‘Super Rugby’ match between the NSW Waratahs (AUS) and Highlanders (NZ) at Allianz Stadium.
Sydney Convicts Head Coach Charlie Winn said, ‘The curtain raiser was a once in a lifetime experience for the team and I’m proud we made the most of this historic opportunity to show gay men can and do play quality rugby. I hope we’ve opened the door to similar games being held in the future around the world.’
International rugby superstar and former Wales captain Gareth Thomas is one of only two professional rugby players in the world to have come out of the closet. He came out in 2009. He said, ‘I congratulate the Sydney Convicts for winning this historic game, it certainly says a lot about the calibre of gay rugby teams around the world. Thankfully we are moving incredibly quickly toward attitudes changing about gay people and whether they can play tough sports like rugby. This may be the first gay team invited to play a curtain raiser but I hope it’s not the last. Rugby is a game for all shapes, sizes and personalities and it needs to be a game for everyone regardless of sexuality. I think rugby can lead the way in changing sporting culture and I’m very hopeful we’ll see more games like this in the UK and around the world.’
Another international rugby legend, John Eales, the most successful captain in Australian rugby history, agrees with Gareth Thomas. The retired Wallaby is also a ‘Bingham Cup Ambassador.’ He said, ‘I am very proud of the Convicts for making history while also challenging stereotypes around gay men. Sports can and must lead society and be welcoming for everyone. It’s always disappointing to hear stories of people who don’t play sports because they fear discrimination. I’m sure that by holding historic events like this weekend’s curtain raiser and taking other steps to publicly support gay people, we can help eradicate homophobia and discrimination in sport.’
This historic curtain raiser was part of a series of anti-homophobia initiatives led by Australian sporting organisations in partnership with organisers of next month’s Bingham Cup, the world cup of gay rugby, being held in Sydney. This includes the first international study on homophobia in sports, which is collecting experiences of people in the UK and other countries.
Many of the Sydney Convicts players joined the gay and inclusive rugby team because they didn’t feel welcome on other teams. This included Jay Claydon, a winger who joined the Convicts after experiencing homophobia on his semi-professional rugby team. He was named ‘man of the match’ after the historic curtain raiser for scoring 3 tries.
Another player, scrum half Jason Fowler, played with the Macquarie University Warriors prior to joining the Sydney Convicts last season. Many of his former teammates only found out he was gay when he played against them as a Sydney Convict. ‘I saw a lot of guys on the field who I was afraid would reject me for being gay just two years ago. I’m amazed by how my life has come full circle and I can play against them now and be proud. In retrospect my sexuality was not as big a deal as I made it out in my head and my old teammates have been extremely supportive.’
In addition to the curtain raiser game, a panel discussion on homophobia in sport was held during the pre-game show and a feature article on discrimination in sport ran in the program. A 30 second anti-homophobia video was also shown on the Jumbotron, featuring many well-known international athletes. This included Mitchell Johnson (Cricket), Ryan Harris (Cricket), Harry Kewell (Football), Alessandro Del Piero (Football), Paul Gallen (Rugby League), Nate Myles (Rugby League), David Pocock (Rugby Union), Lauren Jackson (Basketball), Nathan Jones (Australian Rules), Sam Mitchell (Australian Rules), Kim Green (Netball) and Libby Trickett (Swimming) The video can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-G4mXUtmeZg
Australians are receiving strong international praise and recognition for their efforts to tackle homophobia. Les Johnson is Vice-President of Membership with the Federation of Gay Games, the world’s largest LGBT sporting organisation. “We applaud rugby and Australia’s other major sports for being trailblazers and for strongly supporting our community. The historic initiatives being led by Australians are significant developments in the worldwide effort to end discrimination and make sport welcoming and safe for all.”
More about the Bingham Cup: www.binghamcup.com