Editorial: Player's brave stand exposes flaw
Jay Claydon made a bold and courageous decision this week that will surpass any of his on-field feats.
The former Canterbury club rugby player, now domiciled in Sydney, gave an interview to an Australian newspaper in which he spoke about his sexuality.
Claydon is gay. So what you might say.
In today's enlightened times, we'd like to think this disclosure is unremarkable.
But sadly that's not the case. Being openly gay is still unacceptable in some sections of society.
In the article published in The Age, Claydon claimed that he was asked to leave the rugby club he played for when his sexuality, which he'd kept concealed from all but his immediate family, was disclosed.
The club in question Kaiapoi disputes Claydon's version of events.
They confirmed he was voted off the team but say the decision wasn't related to his sexuality. But the fact that Claydon did not feel at liberty to disclose he was gay to his team-mates and club, and that many others are in the same situation, again highlights we still have some way to go before we can call ourselves an open-minded society.
The reaction to his story was unsympathetic in some quarters, hostile in others.
His family is said to have been abused.
It also speaks volumes that when The Press tried to speak to Claydon he declined our request. This was in part because he feared it would place pressure on his Canterbury-based family and he also felt uncomfortable articulating his story to a Christchurch audience. Claydon's experience comes hard on the heels of a new study in Australia that revealed 85 per cent of gay athletes have 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.
Anti-gay sentiment isn't a problem exclusive to sport.
But sport, which makes a significant contribution to society, can't afford to ignore this issue and there's every reason to believe the situation is as bad if no worse here in New Zealand where sportsmen and women prefer to stay in the closet.
In Australia the problem is being taken seriously.
Wallabies legend John Eales, the most successful captain in Australian rugby history, was quoted this week saying it was always disappointing to hear stories of people who don't play sports because they fear bigotry from fans or players.
"We can help eradicate homophobia and discrimination in sport," he said.
"Sports can and must lead society and be welcoming for everyone.
Thankfully many people seem to agree with this view, and have voiced this strongly during discussions and debates around the high-profile gay athletes in the United States bravely sharing their stories."
The New Zealand Rugby Union's response to the Claydon story sounded glib and inadequate in comparison.
A spokesman said the NZRU had a "zero tolerance" policy when it came to discrimination of any kind.
In Australia major sports bodies including soccer, cricket, Australian Rules football, rugby union and rugby league signed a landmark agreement in April to eradicating homophobia in their communities. It's time New Zealand sporting bodies heeded this example.