HOMOSEXUALITY: MEN: EX GAY PROTEST: Protester Laura Harless holds a sign while praying with Thomas Reddick, center left, Joseph Oguntodu, left, and Harry Matthewson outside a conference at Vista Ridge Baptist Church in Carrollton, Texas, Saturday, Aug. 26, 2006. The gays rights activist are protesting the conference held by the organization the Living Hope/Lasting Change, part of Exodus International which aims to convert gay persons. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Cape Town -

A group of gay rugby players hopes to enlist South Africa in its efforts to end homophobia in sport. They were in South Africa this week where they received a UN Golden World Award recognising “Outstanding Achievement” in Public Relations/Education campaigns that promote social change.

The campaign, spearheaded by the Sydney Convicts rugby union team and volunteers on the Bingham Cup 2014 organising committee, has had international influence including a signed commitment from the chairman of World Rugby Bernard Lapasset to eradicate homophobia in his sport.

Campaign organiser Erik Denison, who plays with the Sydney Convicts, says they want the rugby powerhouses – Australia, New Zealand and South Africa – involved but acknowledges there is a lot of work to be done.

He said he hoped to have formal discussions with the South African Rugby Union (Saru). Denison said in hyper-masculine sports like rugby people believe you couldn’t be gay and tough.

But he said no-one could say a player like Gareth Thomas, the Welsh rugby captain who came out as gay in 2009, wasn’t “tough as nails”.

Denison said it was statistically impossible that there was not a gay professional rugby player in South Africa.

“They don’t feel secure enough to come out but imagine what that would do for future generations?”

Earlier this year Jacques Potgieter was handed a $20 000 fine from the Australian Rugby Union for a homophobic slur. Potgieter, playing for the Waratahs, had used the word “faggot” to sledge to opponents.

Denison said Potgieter had apologised and said he hadn’t realised it was offensive. He said an international study, commissioned by the Bingham Cup Sydney 2014 (the world cup of gay rugby), conducted on homophobia in sport, overseen by seven experts from six universities, called “Out on the Fields” found that discrimination and homophobia was commonplace.

Denison said homophobia had driven him away from rugby and sport: “Like many people on my gay rugby team, I had points of severe depression from not being accepted or able to play the sport I love.” English rugby union player Sam Stanley who recently came out as gay revealed he contemplated suicide because he was worried that he wouldn’t be accepted in the macho world of the sport.

Denison said the five major Australian sports including, rugby, soccer and cricket had jointly committed to ‘eliminate’ homophobia while New Zealand was developing a diversity programme.

“International gay rugby is now in discussions with rugby unions in many countries to address homophobia in sport.”

A Saru spokesman said: “Inclusiveness is a key cornerstone of rugby – from body type to age, race, religion or gender – and as a member of World Rugby, Saru adheres to all it principles.”