All Blacks and homophobia - am I really reading this in 2017?

7:24 pm on 31 March 2017
All Black Liam Sopoaga posted a comment on the photo that read "gayyyyyyyye".

A photo posted by All Black Malakai Fekitoa on Instagram Photo: Instagram

Opinion - Am I really reading this in 2017? All Blacks making derogatory and homophobic comments in a public forum?

On Wednesday night I opened Instagram to see a photo posted by Malakai Fekitoa, an excellent All Black who I, and about 250,000 others, follow. Then I read further and saw a comment by All Black Lima Sopoaga that read "gayyyyyyyye".

This comes after an incident last year when Chiefs player Michael Allardice apologised for a homophobic slur at their end-of-season celebrations at a hot pool complex.

In 2016 the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) and other sporting codes launched a campaign to make sport more inclusive and accessible to all those who want to play.

NZRU led this campaign in the realm of rugby, which was great. I regard rugby as one of the greatest sports on earth, having played it for many years.

I was at the launch as captain of the New Zealand Falcons (New Zealand's gay and inclusive rugby team). I felt heartened, if not a little sceptical as to just how tokenistic the campaign may be.

The NZRU went further in 2016. It formed a group to work in the areas of respect and responsibility.

In 2017, respect and responsibility became part of their Rugby Smart programme, which is delivered to grassroots players, coaches and management around the country.

Professional rugby players are meant to undertake this programme - this latter development invariably a response to undesirable public situations involving Allardice's homophobic comments and the incidents towards women.

So, with all this emphasis placed upon respect and responsibility, why am I reading a high-profile All Black's use of the word "gay" in such a manner in a public forum?

Is it a lack of knowledge, ignorance - or do these players not give a damn?

The answer needs to come from self-reflection at an individual and organisational level.

In the last few hours, Sopoaga himself has acknowledged his comment was not appropriate.

An apology for the comment, posted on 31 March 2017.

An apology for the comment, posted on 31 March Photo: Instagram

Representative players, such as All Blacks, are an extension, and public face, of the NZRU. They must act accordingly - or be questioned on their deviation from the purported NZRU principles.

More than just towing the line, the All Blacks are role models in New Zealand and worldwide, not just for rugby players.

The All Blacks prove themselves time and again on the field (and will hopefully do so against the British Lions). It is time these players showed respect and responsibility off the field as well?

* Jeremy Brankin has captained gay and inclusive rugby team New Zealand Falcons for the past three years and is training to be a doctor in Wellington.

In a written response to RNZ, NZRU general manager for rugby Neil Sorensen said the following:

"We have an expectation that all people involved in the professional game are playing their part to ensure that rugby is inclusive and respectful of all people, and we will be initiating a formal employment process to discuss this post with him."

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