The Sydney Convicts, Australia’s first gay rugby union team, will make history this Sunday when they become the world’s first gay rugby team to play as part of a professional sporting event.
The convicts will play their Suburban Rugby rival Macquarie University as the curtain raiser to the NSW Waratahs’ Asteron Life Super Rugby Round 17 match against the Highlanders at Allianz Stadium.
Jason Fowler, a player with the Sydney Convicts, says 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 two 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.”
NSW Rugby chairman Nick Farr-Jones is also a Bingham Cup Sydney 2014 Ambassador. “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 a 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.”
It is 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).
The event is part of wider efforts by organisers of next month’s Bingham Cup and Australia’s professional sports to tackle homophobia.
Said David Whitaker, president of the Sydney Convicts, “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.”
As part of the event on Sunday, Allianz Stadium will air a 30 second anti-homophobia TV advertisement featuring many of the most well-known athletes in Australian sport. This includes David Pocock, Mitchell Johnson, Harry Kewell, Paul Gallen and Nate Myles. The Waratahs will also run a feature article in the game program and include a panel discussion on homophobia in sport as part of the pre-match panel show.
This historic curtain raiser is one of three history-making initiatives led by the organisers of Bingham Cup Sydney 2014 to tackle homophobia in Australian 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 have agreed to implement policies ahead of the Bingham Cup.
The second historic initiative was launching the first national and international study on homophobia in sport. The study, called Out on the Fields, has already collected the stories and experiences of over 1000 LGBT people in Australia. 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 tackle homophobia in sport. 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.”