The world’s biggest sporting codes are being challenged to follow Australia’s lead and make a collective stand against homophobia.
The most powerful figures in Australian sport united as one on Wednesday in an unprecedented commitment to eliminate discrimination against gay, lesbian and bisexual players, coaches, administrators and fans in their sport.
The heads of the AFL, NRL, ARU, FFA and Cricket Australia joined high-profile athletes including rugby league superstar Greg Inglis in Sydney to condemn homophobia in sport.
“The AFL does not tolerate discrimination in any form and I’m very proud of our track record or responding to issues,” said AFL boss Andrew Demetriou.
“We embrace diversity through our actions and policies but we know there’s still more work to be done.”
The Sydney Convicts Rugby Union team are the reigning Bingham Cup holders, a bi-annual international event which brings gay and straight Rugby teams together.
The teams’ vice captain is Indigenous player James Saunders and despite facing both racist and homophobic abuse himself, he told SBS the campaign is a big step in the right direction.
Watch: James Saunders speaks to SBS reporter John Baldock
Demetriou said “one of the most tangible actions in addressing homophobia came five years ago” when the AFL expanded an existing rule relating to on-field racial and religious vilification to also prohibit vilification on the basis of sexual identity.
“Discrimination is never acceptable and vilification based on sexual identity is just as serious an offence as vilification based on gender, race, religion, colour and disability,” he said.
“We want Australian football at every level to be a sport that welcomes everyone.”
NRL chief David Smith pointed to former Test star Ian Roberts’ “brave” decision to come out in 1995 as one of the most significant moments in Australian rugby league history.
But he admitted the league should have come down harder last season after Newcastle Knights player Ryan Stig’s anti-gay Twitter rant.
“We still have moments where I’m not proud of something which happens in our game, like when one of our players made the most disparaging remarks about homosexuality last year,” Smith said.
“We’ve learned from that experience and we’ll take a harder line against anyone in our game making such appalling comments today.
“That’s why the NRL what’s to be part of this campaign about homophobia.”
Watch: BinghamTV releases campaign awareness video ‘You Can Play!’
FFA boss David Gallop noted how “a few years ago the late, great Johnny Warren titled his biography Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters in reference to the bigotry he faced growing up in the `50s and `60s around the sport he loved.”
“In 2014, football welcomes everyone,” Gallop said.
“Sport has a great opportunity to raise awareness on this issue and must take that responsibility seriously.”
ARU chief Bill Pulver said he wanted “Australian rugby to be an environment where everyone is treated with respect and dignity” regardless of their race, gender or sexuality.
The world-first initiative is the brainchild of organisers of this year’s Bingham Cup, the world cup of gay rugby.
Bingham Cup president Andrew Purchas said he was surprised at how willing the codes’ bosses were to join forces but was hopeful their unity would send a clear message to sporting chiefs across the globe.
“These guys compete against each other in terms of sponsors, players, TV rights, money and eyeballs, but they see this issue as more important than any code rivalry and they’re willing and prepared to make some systemic and fundamental change,” he told AAP.
“We think there’s a real opportunity for sporting codes around the world to take a leaf out of their book and actually come together and do something collectively.”
In signing the commitment, the five sports agreed to implement policies in line with the newly-created Anti-Homophobia and Inclusion Framework by the end of August.