SYDNEY (AFP) - Wallabies great John Eales hailed the courage and spirit of the Sydney Convicts on Sunday, after they became the first gay rugby team in the world to play on the same bill as a professional match.
The Convicts defeated Macquarie University 30-12 in the curtain-raiser to the New South Wales Waratahs' Super Rugby win over the Otago Highlanders at Sydney's Allianz Stadium.
The game was part of efforts by Australia's professional sports to tackle homophobia. Eales said Sunday's historic match was a huge step forward for sport in Australia.
"It's always disappointing to hear stories of people who don't play sports because they fear discrimination," the former Wallabies captain and two-time Rugby World Cup winner told reporters at the ground.
"There is no room for homophobia or any other exclusionary behaviour in sports or any other part of society. "Sports can and must lead society and be welcoming for everyone. "I'm sure that by holding historic events like this and taking other steps to publicly support gay people, we can help eradicate homophobia and discrimination in sport."
During the main game the stadium's big screen aired an anti-homophobia advertisement featuring prominent Australian sportsmen - Wallaby David Pocock, Test cricketer Mitchell Johnson, Socceroo Harry Kewell and National Rugby League players Paul Gallen and Nate Myles.
Among the stars in the Convicts' win was scrum-half Jason Fowler, a former Macquarie University player who quit the club and joined the Convicts after fearing his old team-mates wouldn't accept him if he "came out".
"Playing at Allianz is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and the entire team is extremely proud and excited to be making history," Fowler said.
"Just two years ago I was afraid to come out of the closet to my team-mates. Now I'm playing against them on a gay rugby team as part of a professional sporting event."
While it was an Australian sporting first it was not the first time a gay team has played in a major sporting event in the world. Paris Foot Gay played a football match against Foot Citoyen as a curtain-raiser to the French Division One game between Paris Saint-Germain and RC Lens at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris in 2006.