SYDNEY (Reuters) - In what was hailed as a world first, Australia's five main professional sports signed a commitment on Wednesday to have frameworks in place by the end of August this year to battle homophobia.
Sydney hosts the world cup of gay rugby union, the Bingham Cup, in August and the organisers of that tournament were behind the initiative to get the sporting bodies to commit to a timeline for implementing an inclusion policy.
Wednesday's signing ceremony was a who's who of sports administration in Australia and the officials were supported by a string of high profile athletes, including rugby league international Greg Inglis and test cricketer Nathan Lyon.
The chief executives of Football Federation Australia (FFA), the Australian Football League (AFL), Australia Rugby Union (ARU), National Rugby League (NRL) were joined by a representative of Cricket Australia (CA).
"Today's announcement takes this matter to an entirely new level as five of Australia's major professional sporting codes stand shoulder to shoulder on our collective commitment to tackle all forms of discrimination, particularly homophobia," said the ARU's Bill Pulver.
"Our vision for the game is to create an inclusive Australian rugby community so our decision to implement an inclusion policy was entirely consistent with our policy for the game.
"Put simply, we believe that every individual, whether they be players, supporters, coaches or administrators, should all feel welcome and included regardless of race, gender or sexuality."
The AFL's Andrew Demetriou said the policy was another step on the path to making everyone who wanted to play Australia's indigenous sport feel welcome.
"We know there is still work to be done," he said. "Discrimination is never acceptable and vilification based on sexual identity is just as serious an offence as vilification based on gender, race, religion or special disability."
FFA chief David Gallop recalled a time when Australian sport was not so inclusive by reminding the audience that former Socceroos captain Johnny Warren had entitled his autobiography 'Sheilas, wogs and pooftas'.
"In 2014, football welcomes everyone, football says come and play our game, it's safe and we won't discriminate against you on any grounds," Gallop said.
NRL chief Dave Smith said his sport had learned from last year's controversy when a player, Ryan Stig, posted a statement on social media about gay marriage that compared homosexuality to alcoholism.
"We still have moments where I'm not proud, like when one of our players made the most disparaging remarks about homosexuality last year," he said.
"We should have been stronger in our condemnation of those remarks... we would take harder line against anyone who made such appalling remarks today."
Organisers are hoping that after their success in getting the sports to commit to the framework in Australia, other countries will follow suit.
"Anti-discrimination policies exist in football on a number of levels but this is specifically focused on a blight on society, which is homophobia, and I would certainly think now that Australia can be put up as a role model for the rest of the football world," Gallop said.
Australia spin bowler Lyon said he did not think there was a particular problem in cricket with homophobia but had wanted to be involved to help stress that his sport was inclusive.
"It's important not to judge anyone and it's important to put the message out that it's okay to have your differences and we just want people to be part of the game," he told Reuters.
(Editing by John O'Brien)