Thursday, 1 July 2010

Rugby League Fights back against Homophobia

By Jonathan Wilkinson

How many openly gay sports stars can you name? I bet it is less than you have fingers, I know for me it is, there is Gareth Thomas (rugby union/league player, more on him later), Ian Roberts (rugby league), Justin Fashanu (football) and Martina Navratilova (tennis) are the only ones I can name.

Now how many sporting bodies can you name that agreed to Stonewall's charter on these issues in 2009? Well the answer is just one, RFL. That's right rugby league was the only major sporting body to agree to tackle (excuse the pun) head on. Not the FA which still refuses to deal with the problem, Justin Fashanu, the only openly gay professional footballer committed suicide, after been rejected by his own brother and the rest of the football community.

The fact is been openly gay/bisexual is just not something a sports star can do if they wish to further their career.
Than last year something remarkable happened, the then Rugby Union star Gareth Thomas took a stand and came out as gay. He broke the taboo, he was not the first, as mentioned above and hopefully he will not be the last. Hopefully there will be a day when the sexuality of a player will not be a problem, when calling a player gay/puff will be looked down upon just as much as calling a player nigger or monkey is now. Like the ethnicity of a player is not a problem now (outside of Spain) in the major Western Sporting nations.

There is a major difference between black sport stars and gay ones, it is impossible to hide the fact you are black from the public, not so in the case of homosexuality or bisexuality. Just by hiring black players, the clubs in England forced the issue into the public eye, it is not possible to do so with gay players, it has to be their decision to come out and in the macho environment of sport, this is very hard to do, just think of the 0the stereotypical gay or bisexual man, do you get an imagine of the hardened sports fan/player? Or do you get the imagine of a person who is more suited to the the entertainment industries of pop music or theatre?

Now this leads us back to Gareth Thomas, who after coming out, signed for a rugby league club, Welsh side Crusaders, based in Wrexham. Earlier in the year they went to play a game in Castleford, a small town just outside of Leeds and he suffered terrible homophobic abuse from a small section of their support, but enough for him to notice it. The result of this came to light this week when Castleford were fined £40,000 for failing to deal with it, although this will most likely to be appealed. This is a big moment in the fight against homophobia because it is the first time a major sporting body has stepped up to the plate and put their words into action, it sends out a very strong single to the rest of the RFL clubs, that, just like racial abuse, homophobia will not be accepted in rugby league. The following is the reaction of Thomas to the fine
"I think it has sent an amazing message to sport in general - supporters and people who want to come and play the sport.

"This fine, as much as it will hurt Castleford people, and I don't get any satisfaction that this is going to mean tough times for the Castleford team, but ultimately something had to be done about it.

"I now feel a lot safer, not that I felt unsafe before, but I feel a lot safer now. I'm sure people outside of rugby league will look at it and maybe embrace their own sport with the care that the rugby league authorities have done with this incident."

Hopefully this will be the start of the fight back against homophobia in sport, not just rugby league but all sports. Time for the other major sporting bodies to take notice, you can do something about it. Take the stand, just like you have done against racism. Don't exclude or force into the closest the thousands of gay, lesbian or bisexual people who want to take part in sport but feel like they cannot because of the fear of the hatred they feel they will face if they do come out to their team mates and peers. Because the sporting LGBT needs role models and acceptance just as much as the rest of the LGBT society does but they are seriously lagging behind at the moment.

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