31 May 2016

NZ sports want to combat 'casual homophobia'

7:47 am on 31 May 2016

The captain of a gay rugby team says New Zealand sport still has some big hurdles to to overcome if it wants to be more inclusive.

rugby ball

Photo: 123RF

The country's largest sports codes are banding together in an effort to make sport more diverse and tolerant.

The national bodies for rugby, football, cricket, rugby league, netball and hockey, as well as Sport New Zealand and the Olympic Committee, are due to put their weight behind the initiative later this morning.

Jeremy Brankin is the captain of gay and inclusive rugby team the New Zealand Falcons.

He said there was a problem across the sporting codes and rugby was notoriously homophobic.

The environment led some people, particularly those who were younger and were coming to terms with their sexuality, to give up the sport altogether.

Just as Australian rugby star David Pocock had taken a stand against homophobia, it would be "fantastic to have some champions of inclusive rugby" in New Zealand.

"I'm sure there's some top-level rugby players who are out there now who'd happily be champions; not that they're necessarily gay themselves but they'd probably feel comfortable enough that they'd champion the cause themselves."

And, he said, things were slowly getting better. "The homophobic comments and all those sort of things that were often what people said 'oh they're just part of sport, part of rugby' - I think they're slowly working their way out."

The Brumbies captain David Pocock.

Brumbies player David Pocock has taken a stand against homophobia Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Last year an international survey of 10,000 people revealed the extent of homophobia both on and off the playing field.

Of the New Zealanders surveyed, almost 80 percent had experienced or witnessed homophobia in sport. Among those aged under 22, 88 percent of gay sportsmen, and 76 percent of gay sportswomen stayed in the closet to some or all of their team mates.

University of Otago senior lecturer in sport management Sally Shaw said the attitudes of some sports organisations reflected the casual homophobia in New Zealand society.

"The more casual homophobia; name calling and crowd behaviour and stuff, that was not a surprise because I've certainly witnessed that myself both as a player and a spectator. But I think a number of sports were probably quite shocked at some of those results and probably started to think about how they could better serve their communities."

Dr Sally Shaw

Dr Sally Shaw Photo: Supplied

Toni Duder, from the LGBT support group Rainbow Youth, said many young people were bullied in sports teams and institutions.

"Our community has really high rates of negative health statistics, in terms of addiction and homelessness and self harm and depression and suicide, because of lots of factors, like bullying and discrimination.

"So opening up the platform of sports, and saying 'well we want to be inclusive and creating some visibility for these young people', I think will open some amazing doors."

She pointed to the recent round of Super Rugby where many players wore rainbow laces in support of diversity.

"It's a huge thing to have rugby players and these institutions actively speaking up and not side stepping the issue."

Ms Duder said it was great to start the conversation, but there had to be concrete steps and goals to aim for.

"It has to be done across multiple levels, and it's about changing attitudes that we might not even know, or prejudices that we might not even realise we hold.

"New Zealand is such a nation constructed by sports and I think we need to almost change our national view of what sporting is and what the ideal sportsperson is.

"We do have a long way to go but hey, small steps, positive steps."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs