Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Stephen Fry is right, AGAIN. But what are we doing about it?

It’s time for rugby to get involved in the conversation on sexual orientation and sport, writes Conor Cronin

Rugby Opinion

Louisa Wall, Gareth Thomas, and league cousin Ian Roberts. What do these 3 rugby players have in common?? The same thing as they have in common with people like former Redskins and Giants Guard Roy Simmons, English Olympic Gold Medal boxer Nicola Adams, Cork hurler Donal Óg Cusack, and most recently Olympic bronze medallist Tom Daley.

They’re all homosexuals. And the big question I have to ask is this… Who cares?!

Nigel Owens, in spite of the abuse I might occasionally fling his way during a match, is one of my favourite refs. He’s mostly fair (even if it's to be wrong for both sides!), admits when he’s wrong, is a great tweeter, is well known for being good for a sound bite (“this is not soccer”), and none of that has anything to do with the fact that he is openly Gay.

I love watching rugby.

Do I care about the sexual orientation of the players or officials? Not even a little bit.

Do I care what they get up to in their private lives? Only if it reflects badly on the game or a club, or if the players in question are being a bad example (like 2 certain nameless Irish boys, or the kinds of people who throw the vertically challenged, or show up drunk to work).

Do I think that having gay players will reflect badly on the sport? No.

It seems I’m asking a lot of rhetorical questions here, but don’t worry, I have a point.

At this stage, most people have seen, or at least heard about the letter Stephen Fry has sent to his Prime Minister and the Olympic Council. And I’m expecting most people know why, the decision of the Russian Government to introduce laws that affect the way that homosexuals can live their lives.

There have allegedly even been attacks in Russia on the LGBT community, and the police have basically been told to ignore it.

And it’s not just in Russia this happens. In Jamaica last year a transgender Teen was killed for going to a party dressed as a girl.

So here’s my question for all of us… Is Stephen Fry right. Should the Winter Olympic games in Russia have been boycotted?

Would we, as rugby fans decide to boycott the rugby world cup if it was being held in Russia in 2 years time rather than in England?

It is suggested that in the English Premiership (soccer), a number of the players are gay, but can’t be open about it for fear of the thuggery that may follow. It is even suggested that it was a reason for not playing former player Justin Fashanu.

There are in fact no "out" Gay footballers in the top 4 divisions. (Yes Thomas Hitzlsperger has come out in the last week, but he is retired. Is that too little too late if he really wants to compare himself to Tom Daley?)

Would we, as fans of rugby be tolerant of that? I highly doubt it. I think it would be more likely that, much as we shush some rowdy in the crowd during a penalty kick, we would shush the rowdy who had a go at a player for his sexual orientation. Or at least I’d like to hope so.

And where does the IRB as a whole stand on this? I know that separate to the IRB is the International Gay Rugby Association and Board (IGRAB), but should players not be welcomed regardless of sexual orientation? I applaud the Emerald Warriors RFC as a team, here in Dublin, who do just that. They have had (and I assume still do) players who were straight and gay playing on the same team.

People will argue that there are players who would feel uncomfortable, whether in ruck, scrum or changing room, if they knew a fellow player was Gay.

But again I have to wonder who cares?! I’ve no idea if any of the guys in the sailing club I’m a member of are or aren’t gay, I still need to shower after a sail. I’m very sure a number of the guys I’ve been on stage with (I do a lot of musical theatre!) were definitely gay, but I still needed to change out of my costume at the end of the night. They know I’m straight, and never once have they been suggestive, leery, or tried anything on.

I’ve found that the rugby community is a very accepting place. But I find myself agreeing with Stephen Fry; we can’t accept the actions of a government who, in 6 weeks time, may have a number of international athletes who find that they’re not legally allowed be present because they are the “wrong sexuality”.

I’m writing this piece because I’m generally interested in what people have to say about this. I’m curious to know what the rugby community think of both the Russian Winter Olympics, and the idea of homosexuality in sport. I welcome any comments either here, as a Facebook reply, or on twitter @ccbooms

But to quote Pope Francis after World Youth Day: “Who am I to judge them? They shouldn't be marginalized ... they're our brothers."

Conor Cronin (@ccbooms) is a Leinster fan cursed with a Munster loving father. You'll regularly find him screaming in the north stand in the RDS.

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