Tackling stigma in sport

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Words by Raelee Lancaster

Before the Waratahs played the Highlanders at Allianz Stadium on the 6th of July, Macquarie University took on (and lost to) the Sydney Convicts. The game marked the first time a gay rugby team featured at a professional sporting event.

Created in 2004, the Sydney Convicts are Australia’s first gay rugby union club and aside from winning games, the club on a mission to tackle homophobia in sport head on.

Former Macquarie University student, Jason Fowler, talked to Grapeshot about the inspirational club.Jason+Fowler+Macquarie+Uni+v+Sydney+Convicts+IfytlmPnv1Il

“The Convicts help fight the stigma that ‘gays can’t play sport’ by doing exactly that, and we are competitive at it as well,” Fowler says. “The Convicts are committed to playing good, hard rugby as well as fostering inclusiveness for all.”

This year the club hosted and won the 7th bi-annual Bingham Cup Tournament, a 3-day rugby union competition hosting over 60 teams from around the world. Like the club, the tournament promotes rugby as all-inclusive and non-discriminatory.

“We have gotten progressively larger and more skilled as a club since its conception. Currently, we can field four teams in our Division 4 competition and we are only getting larger.”

Whilst studying a Bachelor of Psychology, Fowler played rugby union for Macquarie University. After graduating in 2013 however, he moved to the Sydney Convicts.

“I had moved to the Inner West and was no longer at Macquarie so it was a long way for me to go to training,” Fowler admits. “I was also friends with a couple of the Sydney Convicts and they convinced me to come down to training and see if I liked it.”

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The move shocked Fowler’s former Macquarie University teammates who, until a game against the Convicts, had no idea about his sexuality.

“In hindsight I made too big of a deal out of it, my old mates from Macquarie University Rugby have been very supportive.”

But Jason confessed that a large reason for not telling his former teammates was the homophobic culture in Australian sport.

“There is a large proportion of society that still believes homosexuality is morally wrong,” he says. “Day by day we are challenging these biased preconceptions but people need time to adjust.”

Jason urges younger boys who are struggling to reconcile their sport and their sexuality to be open and honest. “Things are changing, chances are your teammates will support and respect you for coming out to them.”