THE head of National Rugby League has said the code has been found wanting in its handling of incidents of homophobic abuse and would take a “harder line” in the future.

Chief executive Dave Smith’s mea culpa came at the launch of a new Anti-Homophobia and Inclusion Framework last week. The framework, which is being hailed as a world first, commits the NRL, AFL, soccer, cricket and rugby union sporting bodies to revamping their policies when it came to sexuality as well as taking clear steps to welcome lesbian, gay and bisexual people into sport.

“We still have moments when I’m not proud of something which happens in our game like when one of our players makes the most disparaging remarks about homosexuality last year,” said Smith.

Last October, Newcastle Knights NRL footballer Ryan Stig posted comments on social media that compared homosexuality to alcoholism, saying it was a “politically correct charade,” and “demonic”.

A day after the ACT’s historic same-sex marriage laws were passed, Stig wrote: “I see more and more christian [sic] leaders succumbing to this politically correct notion of supporting ‘marriage equality’”.

Stig continued: “One thing we are hearing more Is [sic] that homosexuality can be genetically traced, well if that is the case there is as much proof of that for alcoholism yet their [sic] are no parades for alcoholic pride. I for one won’t succumb to the politically correct charade of it being a healthy lifestyle choice rather that this stance which stenches of deception.”

Stig’s views were roundly condemned at the time, including by Wallabies captain and Bingham Cup ambassador David Pocock.

The NRL’s response was more lacklustre with the code saying he had not breached their anti-vilification policy and they could not: “prevent an individual holding personal religious views or expressing them.”

While rugby union were early to sign on to the anti-homophobia framework, spearheaded by the organisers of the Bingham Cup, the reaction to Stig’s comments may have been a catalyst for rugby’s other league to actively look at tougher vilification policies.

“We should have been stronger in our condemnation of these remarks,” said Smith at the framework’s launch.

“We have learnt from that experience and would take a harder line against someone making such appalling comments today. That’s why the NRL wants to be part of this [launch] today.”

NRL has committed to a new inclusion policy, including sexuality, within the next five months.

(Main photo: Dave Smith speaks at the anti-homophobia launch last week. Photographer: Ann-Marie Calilhanna)


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