Case study: How volunteer-led PR campaign kicked homophobia into touch

Gay rugby players in Australia produced a PR masterclass to overhaul attitudes to homosexuality in sport.

Australian World-Cup winning legend John Eales was an early supporter of the campaign
Australian World-Cup winning legend John Eales was an early supporter of the campaign

Campaign: Tackling Homophobia in Sport - Bingham Cup Sydney 2014

Agency: Received pro-bono support from SBPR

Client: Sydney Convicts Rugby Club


The initial objective was to win the right for Sydney Convicts – Australia’s first gay rugby team – to stage the Bingham Cup, considered the world cup of gay rugby.

However, it soon became apparent they could think much bigger after receiving the unexpected support of Australia’s then Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who recorded a video backing the cause.

From then on, the objective was to make homophobia unacceptable and improve protection for LGBTI athletes in the country.


After securing the support of the Prime Minister, they then cast their net far and wide to receive the backing of respected sporting leaders, while also engaging the media to help educate the public and also pressure the resistant decision makers.

Later on in the campaign they connected with other community groups to create the Anti-Homophobia Framework.

A video featuring well-known sporting stars was also produced.


The campaign was in uncharted territory and initially people were not particularly interested in talking about homophobia in sport. Some were openly homophobic and actively blocked the work. The group learned to be creative in how it approached potential supporters, using the right networks and gaining an understanding ahead of time around what would motivate their support.

Another approach to get around the lack of political will was to organize a series of public media events timed to milestones, which maintained media coverage.


The volunteers were stunned by the support they received from high-level influencers. John Eales, arguably the world’s most respected rugby player and Australian Rugby Union board member, quickly came on board and helped secure the backing of World Cup winning captain Nick Farr-Jones and current rugby superstar David Pocock. Early and crucial support came from one of Australia’s largest media chains, Fairfax Media, and also the wire service, Australian Associated Press. This support led to the following outcomes:

1. All Australian sports committed at a nationally televised press conference to ‘eliminate homophobia’ and implement an Anti-Homophobia Framework.

2. Many of Australia’s most respected athletes appeared in a TV that aired on TV and at sporting events

3. Athletes from every sport became ‘ambassadors’ and spoke to the media or at events about ending homophobia

4. A coalition of organizations and universities launched the first international study on homophobia in sport. It generated extensive publicity about the impact of homophobia

6. More than 3,000 media articles and features were published around the world, including many in countries where being gay is still illegal.

7. Sports and the media now take homophobia and slurs seriously. A player was recently fined $20,000 after his slurs were reported by one of its ambassadors, David Pocock .

8. World Rugby (formally IRB) signed a memorandum of understanding with International Gay Rugby (which oversees the Bingham Cup) to eliminate homophobic behaviour and attitudes globally.

What’s next?

The campaign was recently awarded ar PRWeek Awards Asia Gold Award winner for Public Education and the plan now is to extend the project to other countries and support other groups as they attempt tackle homophobia through sport. New Zealand Rugby is in talks with local gay players to adopt the Australian Anti-Homophobia Framework, while there has also been interest from organizations in Asia, for which PR support is needed.

Follow PRWeek Asia on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn for the latest news, insights and opinion.

Plus, sign up for our weekly email bulletins; The Breakfast Briefing (for PRWeek subscribers) and The Mix (for everyone!)

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.