Comment: United by rugby, but a long road ahead to end discrimination

Australia's first gay rugby team, the Sydney Convicts (in blue) playing another rugby union team. (AAP)

The Bingham Cup, the “World Cup of gay rugby” is a step in the right direction but more needs to be done to counter hyper-masculine and heteronormative attitudes to sport.

This weekend, competitors will come to Sydney to compete in the Bingham Cup - the men’s Rugby Union Gay World Cup.

Sport is one of the most queerphobic places in our society. A recent survey showed that a huge majority of participants - both gay and straight - had heard or experienced homophobic insults in sporting competitions. This was epitomised recently when a Channel 7 commentator called an AFL player a ‘big poofter’ on live television.

With this context in mind, the Bingham Cup is an extremely important event for Australia. It’s also one that has punched well above its weight. In the lead up to the Cup, the AFL, NRL, ARU, Cricket Australia and the Football Federation of Australian announced the establishment of a joint anti-homophobia and inclusion framework for Australian sports. This is the most comprehensive anti-homophobic policy in Australian sporting history and one that will hopefully have significant impacts on the way sexuality is treated within our codes. 

While this policy is essential, it’s important we don’t downplay the importance of the Cup itself. Many might see an ultimate goal where homophobia is eradicated from our mainstream competitions so queer sporting events no longer need to exist, but that would be a mistake.  

I joined the gay-friendly rugby team the Brisbane Hustlers last year - sick of homophobia, both overt and casual - in the other teams I had been part of. Whilst the Hustlers gave me a new community, they have also dramatically changed my ideas of sport.

When we think of sport there are particular stereotypes that go with it. In particular, our mainstream sports are seen as hyper-masculine. It’s the same for both men, and women - you’ve got to be a blokey man or a butch woman to be able to compete (and if you’re not a butch woman your only role is to be objectified by men). Sport is a world that places masculinity as the ideal trait for the competitor - and expects everyone to fit that mould.

But in the Hustlers that isn’t the case. It’s not just that homophobia isn’t an issue - the stereotypes disappear as well. Our gay men can be butch and our straight men can be camp and no one questions it. This represents the sort of goal we should be aiming for. It’s not just about eliminating homophobia, but allowing people to be free in their personality. 

That’s not to say that Bingham is the be all and end all. Despite hosting a women’s exhibition match this year, Bingham is still all-male - leaving women out of the picture. Discussion about issues related to trans* and intersex participants has also largely been missing.

“Sport is a world that places masculinity as the ideal trait for the competitor - and expects everyone to fit that mould.”

But Bingham - and other tournaments like the ‘OutGames’ - represent something very important. They represent the potential creation of new sporting institutions that our existing ones should be emulating - ones that even though they are based in sexual politics remove sexuality from the equation. Ones that don’t just challenge homophobia in sport, but also the accepted norm of heterosexuality - and all of the stereotypes and prejudices that come with that.

Unfortunately, while the new anti-homophobia policies in our main codes are really important, I question whether they can go this far. I worry they could end up forcing queer people into the straight sporting mould - one that is still hyper-masculine and still extremely sexist. Instead of giving more people access to the ‘norm’, I feel we should get rid of the the idea or the norm in the first place.  

A lot of progress has been made in challenging homophobia in sport this year. But a lot more can be done. Looking towards tournaments like the Bingham Cup is a great place to start.

Simon Copland is a freelance writer and climate campaigner. He is a regular columnist for the Sydney Star Observer and blogs at The Moonbat.

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