Sporting bodies across Australia have thrown their weight behind gay marriage, with cricket the latest to add its support for same-sex unions as a contentious postal vote on the issue began.
So far, 15 sports organisations have signed an open letter urging marriage equality, including Football Federation Australia, Basketball Australia, the National Rugby League and several Aussie Rules clubs. Those yet to show their hand include Tennis Australia and the Australian Rugby Union.
Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland said his organisation’s decision to sign-up was in keeping with its vision of being a sport for all. “Cricket must be a welcoming environment for each and every one of us, regardless of gender, cultural heritage and – importantly in the current environment – sexuality,” he said.
“That holds true whether you are pulling on pads for the first time in community cricket, representing your country, volunteering your time or working for a cricket organisation.” After more than a decade of political wrangling, a national survey on whether gay marriage should be legalised got underway Tuesday with ballot papers mailed out.
The voluntary postal vote, which will ask: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”, will close on November 7, with the result known on November 15. National Basketball League chief Larry Kestelman said gay marriage, for him, was a no-brainer.
“I think people find happiness in all different ways. If it’s not something they are trying to force upon others I don’t see why it is that we should be telling them how to live their life,” he said.
Asked by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation if there was a lack of leadership in sport regarding social justice issues, like same-sex marriage, he admitted the fact that he owned the NBL gave him more liberty than others.
“I do believe some sports have spoken about certain matters, but because a lot of them are not an owned entity, and they are commission(s) and federation(s), there are a lot of politics involved,” he said.
‘There is a place for everyone’
While Football Federation Australia announced its support for gay marriage two years ago, the hugely-popular National Rugby League was a more recent advocate with chief executive Todd Greenberg only going public at the weekend. “There is a place for everyone in our game,” he told the Sydney Sunday Telegraph.
“It might be as a junior, as a volunteer, as a match official or as an NRL player. And we need to treat everyone equally both on and off the field and that’s why we will publicly support the same-sex marriage proposal.”
Despite growing support among sporting bodies for marriage equality and homosexual rights, few Australian athletes have come out as gay. Those who have include tennis star Casey Dellacqua, rugby league player Ian Roberts, and five-time Olympic gold medal swimmer Ian Thorpe, who is firmly behind the “yes” campaign, featuring in their television adverts.
An Australian-initiated survey in 2015, with respondents mostly from Australia, Britain, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and the United States, showed discrimination and homophobia remained widespread in sport. In the wake of that, Australian sports officials vowed to tackle the issue, with some striking a more progressive tone that others.
Cricket Australia’s Sutherland admitted more progress still needed to be made. “While cricket can always be doing more to support the LGBTI community, we hope that supporting marriage equality will send a strong message to the cricket community across Australia that we are a sport for all,” he said.