Australia strikes alliance to grow gay rugby

Israel Folau (Getty Images)
Israel Folau (Getty Images)

Sydney - Rugby Australia on Monday announced plans to grow participation among the gay and lesbian community, just months after sacking superstar Israel Folau for homophobic comments.

The governing body struck a formal alliance with Australia's four gay and inclusive clubs and International Gay Rugby to identify barriers and propose solutions to get more people playing.

Under the agreement, they will also work towards better educating the rugby community about the impact of homophobia on the safety and wellbeing of LGBTQ participants.

"We want rugby to be a game that all Australians can enjoy regardless of their age, race, background, religion, gender or sexual orientation," said Rugby Australia chief Raelene Castle.

"This formal alliance between Rugby Australia and the clubs is a key step forward in fostering and maintaining a rugby environment that is safe, welcoming and enjoyable for all."

Australia currently has four gay rugby clubs - Sydney Convicts, Melbourne Chargers, Brisbane Hustlers and Perth Rams - with plans to launch more.

The alliance follows the sacking of the devoutly Christian Folau after he posted on social media that "hell awaits" gay people and others he considers sinners.

The former Wallaby is pursuing court action for unfair dismissal and restraint of trade with a hearing set for next February over what proved to be a hugely divisive issue.

While many were outraged by his comments others, including the Christian lobby, have defended the right to free speech.

Rugby Australia insists his dismissal was purely contractual, saying Folau had agreed not to disparage anyone over their sexuality following a similar controversy last year.

As part of the partnership announced Monday, efforts will also be made to bring the Bingham Cup - the biennial world championships of gay rugby - back to Australia, which hosted the tournament in 2014 in Sydney.

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