ASB adds diversity clause
Legendary Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe's tell-all interview has prompted ASB Bank into adding diversity clauses to all its sponsorship contracts.
The five-times Olympic gold medallist publicly came out as gay over the weekend in an interview with Sir Michael Parkinson.
Thorpe revealed he had decided against coming out before the 2000 Sydney Olympics, in part because of the sponsorship implications.
At the time he had spoken with Canadian swimmer Mark Tewksbury, who had lost a six-figure speaking contract over rumours he was gay.
ASB chief executive Barbara Chapman said it was wrong that modern athletes might feel they needed to hide their sexuality for fear of upsetting sponsors.
The choice of whether or not to come out was totally up to the individual, she said.
"[But] if it's because of financial reasons, that's a barrier we want to remove."
Sponsorship agreements usually included a termination clause for putting the company's reputation at risk, Chapman said.
The bank is adding a specific diversity clause making it clear that sexuality, gender identity or ethnicity have no bearing on the sponsorship.
Chapman said it needed to be explicitly said, and she challenged other corporate sponsors to follow suit.
ASB sponsors the New Zealand Falcons gay rugby club, who will travel to Sydney next month to contest the Bingham Cup.
Chapman said the sponsorship had been supported by "99.9 per cent" of people.
A few people had cautioned against it, both within the bank and outside, but she had made the call anyway, she said.
AUT University marketing professor Roger Marshall said businesses would suffer "no harm whatsoever" by sponsoring gay athletes or groups.
However, that would not have always been the case, he said.
"Even 10 years ago it was different."
ASB was also the first New Zealand bank to seek out the "Rainbow Tick", which gives accreditation for workplaces that are inclusive of all genders and sexualities.
Chapman said the bank's diversity initiatives were aimed at supporting important community groups, rather than an attempt to chase the "pink dollar".
A spokesman for Gay Tourism New Zealand, who would not be named, said ASB was on the right track.
Gay and lesbian couples often had a high disposable income and a strong sense of brand loyalty, he said.
"Any business who is aware and has got a brand should be promoting it to anybody."
On the flipside, major companies that upset the gay and lesbian community would often be boycotted, he said.
Events such as the Gay Games, which has fielded more athletes than the Summer Olympics, offered a huge opportunity for sponsorship, the spokesman said.
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