I went to an event in the House last week to celebrate the Rugby Football League’s efforts to tackle homophobia in the game.
The RFL brought their gay equality campaign to Parliament to an event, hosted by my LibDem colleague Greg Mullholland MP. The RFL chief executive Nigel Wood said: “Many believe rugby league to be a brutal sport. I will not disagree that the on-the-field product can appear combative and aggressive but it is always played in the correct mindset of competition and fairness. This latter point translates across all those involved in rugby league and is the reason for the event today.”
I was presented with specially-designed Sheffield Eagles shirt carrying the ‘Homophobia Tackle It!’ slogan which will be worn at a home game in February. In my speech I said: “players and officials know that racism is unacceptable but sadly homophobia continues to be an issue in sport, at all levels. The Government is committed to stamping out homophobia wherever it occurs so I’m delighted to see the Rugby Football League and the Sheffield Eagles working hard to tackle the problem. They’re setting a really positive example that all other sports bodies should be proud to follow.”
International rugby star – Gareth Thomas – was meant to attend (the only out gay player – whose example sends out a fantastic message to young boys struggling with their sexual orientation to say – if I can do it you can do it’ – and it’s normal) but he was ill sadly.
However, it was a great event and highlighted just how important it is for all organisations around sport to take this issue very seriously. When the associations do – then the whole world changes for youngsters who then see their role models out there – and no longer feel perhaps that they need to hide who they are or indeed – give up their passion for the game itself.
Someone was telling me that out of 3,500 soccer players in our football league – not a single one is gay! Clearly not the real case. So – well done RFL. And come on FA.
Where rugby leads – soccer needs to follow – and fast!