Wallabies great John Eales has thrown his support behind an Australian gay rugby tournament at his former sporting domain in Queensland.
On any given game day at Ballymore, the holy grail of Queensland rugby union, every tough bloke stereotype is on display.
Teams of bulky men wrestling each other to the ground for a ball, beer-swilling spectators yelling for more and plenty of back-slapping and grunting to go round.
It may seem the last place any gay rugby player would feel at home.
But on Saturday, the Ballymore Stadium in Brisbane has opened its doors to the Purchas Cup, an Australian gay rugby championship.
The competition, which includes players from around Australia and New Zealand, has the support of former Wallabies captain John Eales, who is a fierce advocate for ridding sport of homophobia.
“It sends a clear message that rugby is an inclusive sport and that regardless of sexuality gay people are welcome, just as they should be in any sport,” Eales said.
Eales said when he first took to the field at Ballymore, homosexuality was still illegal, although the Queensland government decriminalised it in 1990.
“Thankfully, these days people are generally more accepting of each other’s differences,” he said.
“I’m sure that by holding events like the Purchas Cup on historic sporting grounds we can help eradicate homophobia and discrimination in sport.”
The support from a rugby great is welcome news for Brisbane Hustlers rugby union player Martin Tebbutt.
The 31-year-old spent his younger years trying to hide his sexuality among a tough and manly sport.
“I felt if I came out of the closet I would be identified as ‘soft’ or ‘a fairy’ by my long-time teammates and that definitely wasn’t how a rugby player wanted to be described,” he said.
Tebbutt said after leaving the sport for a few years, he returned after coming out with his sexuality, including to his long-time rugby mates.
He hopes the support of Eales and the Queensland Rugby Union mean the next generation of players will have it easier.
“By supporting us it sends the message that they agree that being gay does not mean you aren’t tough and you can’t play rugby,” he said.
In August the World Cup of Gay Rugby, the Bingham Cup, will be held in Sydney.