Australia’s first gay rugby union team (the Sydney Convicts) will make history when they become the first gay rugby team in the world to play as part of a professional match.
In fact, it’s only the second time in the world that a gay team has been invited to play a curtain raiser ahead of a professional game (the first time was at a French soccer game in 2006). The Sydney Convicts, which play in a mainstream rugby competition, will play against Macquarie University next Sunday afternoon ahead of the game between the NSW Waratahs (AUS) and the Highlanders (NZ) at Allianz Stadium. The event is part of wider efforts by both organisers of next month’s Bingham Cup as well as Australia’s professional sports to help end homophobia in Australia and around the world.
Nick Phipps plays for the Australian national team the “Wallabies” as well as the NSW Waratahs. He is also a strong supporter of the Bingham Cup Sydney 2014 said, “Sport is such a beautiful thing and in this day and age, there should be no discrimination at all. After getting to know some of the boys who play for the Sydney Convicts, they’re really good fellas and we want to help them as much as we can. Hopefully the fans also get behind the boys and show their full support, to end discrimination in sport and raise awareness about the Convicts as a team and what they stand for.”
Jason Fowler, a player with the Sydney Convicts, played with Macquarie University (the team the Convicts are playing) prior to joining the gay and inclusive rugby team. Many of his former teammates at Macquarie University didn’t find out he was gay until he played against them as a Sydney Convict. “Playing at Allianz is a once in a lifetime opportunity and the entire team is extremely proud and excited to be making history. For me, I’m amazed by how my life has come full circle. Just 2 years ago I was afraid to come out of the closet to my teammates, now I’m playing against them on a gay rugby team as part of a professional sporting event.”
David Whitaker, president of the Sydney Convicts said, “The Sydney Convicts are very excited and proud to be the first gay and inclusive rugby team to be invited to play as part of a professional sporting match. Often discrimination and homophobia is based on stereotypes that gay people are somehow weak and they can’t play tough sports like rugby. We hope this game helps to challenge these misconceptions while also raising awareness that homophobia in sport is still a major issue and gay people often still feel unwelcome,” says
Nick Farr-Jones is one of the most successful captains in Wallabies’ history. He’s also Chairman of NSW Rugby and a Bingham Cup Sydney 2014 Ambassador. He said, “NSW Rugby is proud to be a long-time supporter of the Sydney Convicts and their efforts to tackle homophobia. Rugby is very committed to making our sport welcoming to everyone, regardless of their sexuality. I hope this historic curtain raiser will help us continue to send a strong message that there is no room for discrimination of any kind in rugby, both on and off the field.”
As part of the event on Sunday, Allianz Stadium will air a 30 second anti-homophobia TV advertisement during the Waratahs/Highlanders game featuring some of the most well-known athletes in world sport. This includes 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 Waratahs will also run a feature article in the game program and include a panel discussion on homophobia in sport as part of their pre-game show.
This historic curtain raiser is one of three history making initiatives led by the Australian organisers of Bingham Cup Sydney 2014 to tackle homophobia in sports. In April, they organised a joint commitment by every major professional Australian sport to ‘eliminate’ homophobia. The sports signed an ‘Anti-homophobia and Inclusion Framework’ and challenged sporting organisations around the world to do the same. The second historic initiative was launching the first national and international study on homophobia in sport involving researchers from 6 universities from Canada, UK, USA and Australia. The study, called Out on the Fields, has already collected the stories and experiences of over 5000 LGBT people worldwide. Researchers hope more people will take part in the study, which can be found at www.outonthefields.com
Australians are receiving strong international praise and recognition for their efforts to change sporting culture. Les Johnson is Vice-President of Membership with the Federation of Gay Games, the world’s largest LGBT sporting organisation. “This is only the second time we’ve heard of a gay team being invited to be part of a professional sporting match and it’s a first for a gay rugby team. 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.”