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2015-05-15: Rugby Stars Say ‘Sport Must Change’ and call for an End to Homophobia


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Rugby Stars Say ‘Sport Must Change’ and call for an End to Homophobia

- Stars react to landmark study that found widespread discrimination in UK and international sport

- World Rugby (formally IRB) praised for historic commitment to ‘eliminate’ homophobia from rugby

In what is believed to be a world first, rugby stars from three countries are joining together in calling for an end to homophobia in sport. English star James Haskell and Welsh star Alex Cuthbert as well as Australian Rugby Legend John Eales have all backed a statement specifically calling for an end to homophobic language, the most common form of discrimination.

The three stars join other high profile rugby figures speaking out about discrimination, including Gareth Thomas and David Pocock as well as openly gay rugby referee Nigel Owens who says homophobia has been tolerated for "too long." This all comes after the first international study found widespread homophobia in UK and international sport. It found:

- 77% of UK participants in the study had ‘witnessed or experienced homophobia’ around sport
- Verbal slurs such as ‘faggot’ or ‘dyke’ as well as jokes about gay people were the most common forms of homophobia reported
- 70% thought youth sport in the UK was not safe or welcoming to lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

(Nearly 9500 gay, lesbian, bisexual and straight people took part in “Out on the Fields,” the largest study ever conducted on homophobia in sport. Nearly 1800 were from the UK. It was reviewed by a panel of seven academic experts from six universities. Full UK results: www.outonthefields.com)

In response to the study, World Rugby, (formerly IRB), reaffirmed a recent, historic commitment to ‘eliminate’ discrimination from the game. Meanwhile, the three international rugby stars – Haskell, Cuthbert and Eales – have all backed a formal statement that says: “Everyone should be able to play and enjoy sport without fear of discrimination. Homophobic language can be harmful to those struggling with their sexuality and it makes people feel unwelcome to play sport. We want to send a strong message to everyone involved in sport that homophobic language and behaviour is not acceptable.”

England’s James Haskell, 30, said he decided to back the statement because he was alarmed by the extent of discrimination discovered in the UK and other countries. "I feel bad for anyone who struggles to be true to who they are and feels the need to live a lie because they are worried about being rejected. I think homophobic language is still too common in sport. Even if the jokes and banter you sometimes hear are not meant to be harmful I think it creates an environment where gay people don’t feel very welcome," said Haskell.

Haskell’s views on the effects of discrimination reflect the experience of openly gay Welsh rugby legend Gareth Thomas. He says he kept his sexuality secret and nearly committed suicide because language created a hostile environment.

“I am one of those who hid my sexuality for years because this kind of language created an environment where it seemed impossible to be accepted as a gay man. The good news is I don’t believe most people making these jokes and using these slurs are being intentionally homophobic. After I came out of the closet, many of my greatest supporters were teammates who, in the past, had made the most jokes about gay people,” wrote Thomas, in a foreword for the “Out on the Fields” study.

Welsh rugby star Alex Cuthbert, 25, says Thomas has helped people understand why this issue is important, "I think Gareth Thomas's story has helped us all become more aware of the effects of homophobic language and banter. Society has changed and I don't think this kind of language has any place in sport or anywhere else anymore."

Meanwhile, former New Zealand All Black Josh Kronfeld says homophobic language is still too common among spectators, while Australian Wallabies star David Pocock has called the extent of homophobia discovered by the study “awful” and wants “more education through all levels of the game.” Pocock recently complained to a referee about homophobic slurs during a match, leading to a player being fined $20,000 by the Australian Rugby Union.

In Ireland, rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll and current players Cian Healy and Peter O’Mahony also back an end to discrimination against gay people. All three have urged people to vote ‘yes’ in their country’s upcoming same-sex marriage referendum.

Rugby legend John Eales, the most successful Wallaby captain in Australian history, is proud that so many rugby players around the world are taking such a strong stance on discrimination against gay people. He also praised the commitment by World Rugby (formerly IRB) to address discrimination. (www.worldrugby.org/news/59705)

"I think we were all surprised by the extent of homophobia that was found by the study but I am glad rugby is leading internationally on this issue. I think World Rugby's commitment to eliminate homophobia from the game is very powerful. It will help end the problem because it sends a strong message to everyone involved in sport that homophobic language or any behaviour that makes people feel unwelcome is no longer acceptable," said Eales.

Jeff Wilson, the London based Chairman of International Gay Rugby, signed the recent agreement with World Rugby Chairman Bernard Lapasset to “work together to educate and eliminate homophobia in rugby.”

“Unfortunately there are still alarming rates of discrimination in sport and I think we have a lot more work to do than we expected. However, despite its tough and macho image, I think rugby is very well placed to become the most inclusive and tolerant sport in the world. We are very grateful to have such strong support at all levels of the game, from the players up to the international leaders. I’m hopeful that rugby’s success will inspire other sports to also rid their games of discrimination,” said Jeff Wilson.

Media Resources:

- Infographic on homophobia in sport in the UK: bit.ly/1d186DM
- UK Press Release on the study results: bit.ly/1EJPG0Z
- Findings from the “Out on the Fields” study: www.outonthefields.com
- Information about International Gay Rugby: www.igrugby.org/about.htm
- Agreement between International Gay Rugby and World Rugby: www.worldrugby.org/news/59705

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