A Canterbury rugby club has denied a reported claim from a gay former player that he was banished from the club because of his sexuality.
Jay Claydon, who is now based in Sydney, went public with the claim in Fairfax Australia news outlets yesterday.
He said at 18, he had told close friends and family he was gay. They accepted him. But inside his rugby club, he did not feel safe coming out.
"At training one night, people were looking at me funny. Somehow they'd found out.
"On the Friday night, I got a call from my coach saying the players had taken a vote at a meeting behind my back and they weren't comfortable having me in the team any more. He said, 'they don't want you to come back'."
Claydon did not name the club in the article. He was unavailable for further comment yesterday.
But Kaiapoi and Belfast - the two clubs he played for in Canterbury at senior level in 2006 and 2007 - both insisted he was not asked to leave because of homophobia.
Fairfax Media understands Claydon was voted out of the Kaiapoi team - his hometown club. But Kaiapoi club officials, who declined to be named, were adamant that decision was not related to his sexuality. Sources close to his family also backed up the club's assertion.
Claydon - known in Kaiapoi as Jeremy Claydon - was a promising rugby player who represented the South Island at junior age-group level in 2004.
He was selected for the Kaiapoi senior team while he was still at secondary school and helped them win the North Canterbury championship in 2006.
He was also a North Canterbury senior representative that season. But he left the club the following year and joined Belfast.
Former Belfast coach Don Fisher said Claydon "certainly wasn't barred from our club. We had no issues with him and he was a valued member of our club."
The Fairfax Australia article stated a new study had revealed 85 per cent of gay athletes had experienced or witnessed homophobic abuse.
In the largest survey of its kind, Out on the Fields paints a picture of a national sporting environment openly hostile to gay and lesbian participants, with half reporting they have been the direct target of verbal threats, bullying, violence or exclusion from sport.
Of those who said they had been targeted, 13 per cent suffered physical assaults.
Claydon said he discovered when he moved to Australia in 2008, playing semi-professional rugby at inside-centre for Gordon, that homophobic slurs were an accepted part of sporting culture. At the clubs he played for in Perth and Sydney, he felt compelled to keep his sexuality secret for fear of being ostracised.
Like many who responded to the survey - commissioned by organisers of the Bingham Cup, the gay rugby World Cup, to be held in Sydney next month - it forced him from the game he loved. It was only last year when he joined the Sydney Convicts, Australia's first gay rugby union club, he found a team where he was free to be himself.
"It's such a stereotype, but at most clubs they see a gay guy and think you can't be sporty or masculine," he said.
"They think that you're weak or you're not as tough as them. Even when they didn't know I was gay I'd hear the word ‘faggot' all the time."