ONLY Fred Nile could have been happy as the clouds gathered and the rain began to seep into the rugby fields of Sydney’s eastern suburbs as the first day of play got underway in the Bingham Cup – the world cup of gay rugby.

However, if there’s one thing rugby players don’t mind, it’s a bit of mud.

There are a lot of gay rugby players in Sydney right now hailing from 15 countries and representing 30 teams. As organisers were keen to point out, the cup is the biggest international sporting tournament in Sydney this year.

While the Sydney Convicts took on the Melbourne Chargers outside, the formal proceedings got underway with Federal Communications Minister and Wentworth federal Liberal MP Malcolm Turnbull saying the tournament was an “effective and practical way” of yielding success in the campaign against homophobia in sport.

“The one lesson we must repeat is that discrimination and intolerance in our community does not simply hurt the people who are objects of that discrimination, it knaws away at the foundations of society,” he said.

Turnbull said that the Bingham Cup sent a message to the whole of society, that “homophobia is wrong and you have to call it out for what it is so we can continue to build our harmonious nation of Australia”.

Talking to the Star Observer, Grayndler federal Labor MP Anthony Albanese recalled the advances made since he first picked up a ball.

“I played rugby league as a kid and slurs were pretty common place but society is advancing and that’s a good thing,” he said.

“I’m very proud that my team, South Sydney, has Sam Burgess supporting the Bingham Cup and fighting homophobia, even though it’s a different code.”

Rugby great and Bingham Cup Ambassador John Eales said rugby by its very nature was an inclusive sport and that “we need to extend that and make sure there is space for every kind of person and rugby is a sport where they feel like they can belong”.

Australian Rugby Union (ARU) took the opportunity of the tournament kick-off to announce they had signed off a new inclusion policy designed to stamp out homophobia, and other forms of discrimination, in the game.

The ARU was the first sporting code to commit to developing an inclusion policy back in August last year.

The news comes following a Star Observer investigation that found some codes – including cricket and football – were unlikely to meet their own deadlines for creating anti-homophobia and inclusion polices.

Openly-gay AFL player Jason Ball also attended the first match. He said getting all the codes to sign up to inclusion polices by the time of the Bingham Cup was an “ambitious” target.

“But the important thing is everyone is heading in the right directions and AFL and ARU are really role models for the other codes,” he said.

The regional Victorian player confided in the Star Observer that the Melbourne Chargers had approached him to be on the team for the cup.

“But I don’t know if my coach would be too happy about that,” he said.

“It would probably be sacrilegious when it comes to the religion of the AFL.”

The first day of play followed a slick opening ceremony the night before at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art. At the event, it was announced to the throngs of players that the International Rugby Board had become the first major international sporting federation to publicly endorse a gay sporting event.

Hosted by Vanessa Wagner, and with outgoing NSW Governor Marie Bashir in attendance, probably the biggest cheer of the night came for Mark Bingham’s mother, Alice Hoagland, who was visibly overwhelmed by the reception.

She implored the players present to “go home, get some sleep and keep your shirts clean tomorrow”.

Judging by the mud splatters on the field, it’s unlikely many heeded that last piece of advice.

RELATED: Roundup  and scores from day 1

© Star Observer 2014 | For the latest in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans* and Intersex (LGBTI) news in Australia, be sure to visit starobserver.com.au daily. You can also pick up the next Star Observer monthly magazine November 21 or Join us on our Facebook page and Twitter feed.