Aussie hosts of Bingham Cup commit to eliminate homophobia in sport

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Australian/UK Rugby League stars Sam and Thomas Burgess have joined their South Sydney Rabbitohs teammate, Greg Inglis, in calling for an end to homophobia in sport.

Call it a blitz.

Australian organizers of this year’s Bingham Cup — the world cup of gay rugby — are challenging athletes, coaches and front-office execs around the globe to help eliminate homophobia in sport.

“Discrimination in sport is something we see globally,” said Andrew Purchas, president of the Bingham Cup Sydney 2014. “In fact, sport is one of the last places in Western societies where gay, lesbian and bisexual people still struggle to be accepted.”

This spring, Purchas and others involved in hosting a gay rugby tournament in August, announced that the leaders of Australia’s professional sports leagues signed a commitment pledging to eliminate homophobia in the game. 

The commitment is unprecedented — the first time all the major professional sports leaders in a country collectively committed to implement policies and changes to welcome LGBT people on the field and in the stands. 

The pledge was made by Andrew Demetrious, CEO of the Australian Football League; Bill Pulver, CEO of the Australia Rugby Union; Dave Smith, CEO of the National Rugby League; David Gallop, CEO of the Football Federation Australia and Ben Amarflo, executive general manager of Cricket Australia.

“I’m proud to see Australian sports play such an important leadership role,” Australian Minister for Sport Peter Dutton stated in a news release. “There is no place for discrimination on our sporting fields, in our clubs or sports organizations.”

Some of Australia’s most celebrated athletes appeared at a news conference to announce the initiative and also appear in a 30-second ad.

“I feel we have reached a turning point in our efforts to change sporting culture,” said Wallaby John Eales, the ambassador for the Bingham Cup Sydney and the most successful captain in Australian rugby history. “It’s important to focus entirely on a person’s ability to play a sport and not get caught up in old-fashioned, clearly incorrect stereotypes and assumptions about people. I’m very proud of the five Australian sporting organizations for undertaking this commitment to make their sport more welcoming, safe and inclusive.”

The deadline to implement policies and changes under Australia’s newly created Anti-Homophobia and Inclusion Framework is mid-August, when 2,000 gay rugby players from 16 countries will gather for the Bingham Cup hosted by the Sydney Convicts and named for American Mark Bingham, one of the heroes of Sept. 11, 2001. 

Bingham, a member of the San Francisco Fog, died on United Airlines Flight 93, the plane hijacked by terrorists that went down over Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Bingham is believed to have joined three other men in trying to overtake the hijackers.

At the time of his death, only six gay and inclusive rugby clubs existed in the world — two of them co-founded by Bingham. Today, there are about 60 such clubs, including the Madison Minotaurs, which formed in Wisconsin’s capital in the spring of 2007.

In 2002, Bingham posthumously received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. The same year, the Mark Kendall Bingham Memorial Tournament — the Bingham Cup — was created.

In July, Bingham will be inducted into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame, which is based in Chicago. The ceremony will coincide with the annual Out at Wrigley Field on July 12.

Bingham “is an excellent role model for all LGBT athletes, whether it be at the youth, professional, amateur or collegiate level,” said hall of fame founder Bill Gubrud. “We are very proud to have Mark Bingham in the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame.”