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UPCOMING OLYMPIC GAMES

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We have launched in Australia a real live example of how we want to make a difference. It’s the "Rainbow Round of Sport" to help highlight the issues around homophobia in sport by inviting athletes and teams to wear #RainbowLaces, from March 31 through to April 4 across all sport. We will be highlighting the campaign across six elite, professional sports in Australia.

It’s not an original idea. As UK readers will know, the Stonewall Foundation has partnered with Paddy Power over the past couple of years to have a #RainbowLaces campaign for the same reason. In Australia also, there has been a previous Rainbow Laces campaign in aid of Zaidee’s Rainbow Foundation, named in honour of young Zaidee Turner who tragically passed away from a cerebral aneurism at age seven and whose organs and tissues were donated. We thank Zaidee’s dad, Allan Turner, for supporting this #RainbowLaces campaign.

In this instance, we have partnered with the AIDS Council of New South Wales' Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) workplace inclusion program Pride in Diversity, and their Pride in Sport program.

Pride in Sport has recently launched a Pride in Sport Index (PSI), with the support of the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Australian Sports Commission, to benchmark how sports organisations are working to reduce homophobia and transphobia and making sport more accessible for all. The major professional football codes in Australia – the four of them – have all signed-up to the PSI as have other sports such as basketball, golf, swimming and water polo.

The PSI arose out of a 2015 global study commissioned by Bingham Cup Sydney 2014 in conjunction with Repucom, entitled Out on the Fields, which showed the extent of homophobic attitudes and behaviour in sport. Around 9,500 people were surveyed in the study, more than 3,000 of them from Australia. Of the Australian respondents:

80 per cent said they had witnessed or experienced homophobia in sport,
70 per cent believed that youth team sports were neither safe nor supportive for LGB people,
only two per cent believed that LGB people were accepted within sporting culture
78 per cent thought that an openly LGB person would not be safe as a spectator.
This completely goes against the grain of everything SKINS and I stand for.

If you read my thoughts regularly, you will know that we see sport as a vehicle for inclusivity and diversity. This includes not just race and religion, but also sexual identity and preference. The only thing that should matter in sport is how you perform on the field and no-one should feel intimidated into hiding their sexuality.

Sport isn’t about who or what you are, but about shared experiences, shared endeavours, teamwork and fair play. By its very nature, sport and inclusivity and diversity should go together.

This is why we’ve got on board with Pride in Diversity and the Pride in Sport programme to encourage sports, the players and their fans to lace-up and help boot homophobia out of sport for good.

The more I have learned about the issue in recent months, the more I also have learned about the extent of the challenge.

Similar to the inaugural #RainbowLaces campaign in the UK, there is a reluctance to join the campaign. In some cases, this may be for commercial reasons. As a sportswear company, we get that some clubs may be restricted by existing arrangements with their sportswear providers. This is why we’ve ensured there is no branding on the rainbow laces so athletes can be certain they’re not contravening any personal or club deals.

But, frankly, it’s also because homophobia is one of the last, great taboos of sport. It’s a point that English Premier League player Joey Barton, then with QPR and now with Burnley, touched-upon in his blog in 2014.

Very few sportsmen and women are comfortable in talking about homophobia. It takes courage in a professional sporting environment to speak out on any issue but especially one such as this. That is why I am delighted and thrilled to have on board the following athletes who support the #RainbowLaces campaign:

From rugby league – Robbie Farah (Wests Tigers), Nathan Peats (Parramatta Eels), Johnathan Thurston (NQ Cowboys and Kangaroos)
From rugby union – Matt Toomua (Brumbies and Wallabies)
From football – Alex Brosque (Sydney FC), Bruce Djite (Adelaide United), Michelle Heyman (Canberra United and Matildas), Matt McKay (Brisbane Roar and Socceroos) and Zac Anderson (Sydney FC)
From Australian Rules football – Dylan Shiel (GWS Giants)
From netball – Sharni Layton (NSW Swifts and Diamonds)
From surfing – Joel Parkinson
From a team perspective, those who are wearing #RainbowLaces in this weekend’s Rainbow Round of Sport are:

From rugby league – North Queensland Cowboys, Penrith Panthers
From rugby union – ACT Brumbies
From football – Sydney FC
From Australian Rules football – GWS Giants, Brisbane Lions
From netball – NSW Swifts
The initiative has also been endorsed by the Rugby Union Players’ Association, the Rugby League Players’ Association, Professional Footballers’ Australia and the Australian Rugby Union.

We appreciate the support of these athletes and organisations. It’s a positive start.

The good news is that #RainbowLaces is not a one-off, so other athletes, clubs and sporting organisations will have an opportunity next year and beyond to join Pride in Diversity and us in saying #KnotMe to homophobia in sport also.

Social and cultural change do not happen overnight and we’re in this for the long haul to support the important work of Pride in Diversity and the PSI.

Just as the Stonewall Foundation has found in the UK, I hope more teams and athletes participate next year and beyond to help us make sport the safe, secure and welcoming environment that it should be.

Because I also believe that sport reflects society, I’ve written personally to every Federal and state politician in the country – that’s 823 (we’re a tad over-governed but that’s a blog for another day) – inviting them to support #RainbowLaces also and show that they will not tolerate anti-homophobia measures in sport. Each has received his or her own set of laces.

Let’s see how many are willing to put their laces where their mouth is.

Our game plan is to make sure that the only thing that counts in sport is what happens on the field of play.

You can show your support also with social media posts over March 31 to April 4 using the #RainbowLaces and #KnotMe hashtags.

If you’re involved with a community sporting organisation, you can get your own #RainbowLaces for free via registering at www.rainbowlaces.net. For individuals, head along to Rebel or Amart stores where you can pick-up a pair for free until stocks last.

Help us say #KnotMe to homophobia in sport with #RainbowLaces.

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