NRL awarded for support to LGBTI community
The NRL has expressed its pride in being honoured with a Pride in Sport award for the organisation's work supporting the LGBTI community.
The NRL was recognised as the highest-ranking national sporting organisation, according to the Pride in Sport Index which is run by Pride in Sport, a national not-for-profit sporting inclusion program.
NRL Wellbeing Manager Paul Heptonstall said with 11 percent of Australians belonging to the LGBTI community, a similar proportion of NRL supporters as well as NRL staff and players likely also belonged to the LGBTI community and hoped the continued strides made by the sport in this area would help break down stigmas.
"We don't currently have any openly gay male players but we're getting more younger players who are comfortable in identifying themselves," Heptonstall said.
"As younger people become more open with their sexuality I think it will flow into our game at a higher level so that will be a whole snowball effect.
"If it's 11% of the community it should be 11% of our fans, 11% of our staff, 11% of our playing group.
"In the female sports where it's more open and common people don't blink an eye now. In time that will happen, it won't be a surprise, it will just be part of the environment."
There was plenty of positive feedback to NRL.com's recent interview with Jillaroos pair Karina Brown and Vanessa Foliaki, a couple who will face off against each other in State of Origin.
Heptonstall said there were four major areas that continued to the NRL's success in topping the Pride index.
"One, our community messaging around the Mardi Gras. We're the only national sporting organisation to have a float. It's got current and ex players on the float championing the cause of inclusiveness."
The NRL's float at the 2018 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras included current Sea Eagle Joel Thompson, current Jillaroo Kezie Apps, and retired NRL stars like Dene Halatau, Paul Langmack, Wendell Sailor and Ian Roberts.
Roberts is still the only professional male rugby league player to come out as gay during his playing career.
The second initiative is the game's stance supporting US rapper Macklemore performing his song 'One Love', which supports marriage equality, at the 2017 Telstra Premiership grand final.
"Third, we've done extensive educational programs on creating a safe environment within footy teams and clubs. We deliver a theatre sports program to every single NRL club, players and group of staff," Heptonstall said.
"We simulate a situation where a player is coming out to his teammates and there's homophobia and how to we deal with that.
"The fourth one is the game has got a lot stronger in its policies around LGBTI inclusion, what we do around vilifying remarks with players or staff. I think we've got tighter protocol on how we deal with that."
The NRL was also the first Australian sporting code to join Pride in Diversity in 2014 and was the first sporting code to endorse the Anti-Homophobia and Inclusion framework.