Cheree Kinnear / NZ Herald
The Herald can reveal that next month the Melbourne Rebels will host the Chiefs at AAMI Park for Super Rugby’s first-ever “Diversity and Inclusion” round with initiatives to “lead the way for inclusion and anti-homophobia”.
The event, a joint initiative between the Rebels and Rugby Victoria, will come just months after Folau had his contract terminated by Rugby Australia for making anti-gay posts on social media.
The Wallabies star’s comments sparked a storm of controversy and focused attention on homophobia in the sport.
Last week, the Crusaders became embroiled in claims several players made fun of a gay man in a South African fast food restaurant while on tour, allegedly imitating his voice and making limp wrist gestures.
The players have denied the allegations but NZ Rugby has launched an independent investigation to examine the claims.
According to a Rebels spokesperson, a curtain raiser will feature the Melbourne Chargers, the city’s “premier inclusive rugby club”.
Players and officials from the Rebels will also be approached to volunteer as “Diversity Ambassadors” following the campaign.
The Chiefs were unable to elaborate on the match but said they were “supportive of the concept as rugby is for everyone”.
The initiative comes after recent research from Monash University revealed an alarming presence of homophobic language present in the sport.Of the Kiwi and Australian teenage rugby players surveyed, 75 per cent had heard words such as “fag” and “poof” used in the past two weeks, with 53 per cent of them admitting to having used the slurs themselves.
Further research revealed that 87 per cent of young gay men are completely or partially in the closet while playing sport and 75 per cent believed an openly gay spectator would not be safe at a sporting event.
Monash University’s Sport Inclusion researcher Erik Denison told the Herald last month that campaigns led by high-profile sports stars would be the best way to start stamping out the issue of homophobic language in the sport.
“There is an alarming number of players and coaches using the language,” Denison said “Coaches, especially, are normalising the language.
“It creates an environment and culture that is not fun and is one of the main reasons gay and straight people leave the sport.
“It’s not banter. It’s harmful and we need to focus on the harm it can cause.”
Monash University is set to revisit its research following the Super Rugby Pride Round campaign to test the behavioural change.
A Rebels spokesperson told the Herald: “The Melbourne Rebels and Rugby Victoria are partnering to celebrate diversity and inclusion in Rugby in the week leading into our match against the Chiefs on Friday 14 June. Our focus for this includes anti-homophobia, gender equality, disability, multicultural and indigenous heritages and faith. Further announcements around key events of our Diversity & Inclusion Round will be made next week.”
The match between the Rebels and the Chiefs is set to kick off at 9:45 pm (NZT) on June 14.
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