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Thursday 10 November 2016

Power in Numbers

Posted in: People
By - 18th July 2016

Homophobia is rife within the world of sports and most recently, radio sports show Controversy Corner was canned after an episode in which the presenters used sexuality, race and gender as laughing point.

Many people believe that an openly gay All Black would offer some sort of solution to the problem of homophobia on and off the sports field. While this is a questionable solution to a problem, it also seems to be very much specific to men in rugby, as the national women’s rugby team, the Black Ferns has had many openly gay players, including Rainbow MP and former Silver Fern Louisa Wall. This is not to say however that the issue of homophobia is a problem specific to men in rugby, as Wall suggests, our other beloved national sport Netball also has problems.

At the age of 17, Wall became a Silver Fern and represented New Zealand at an international level. At this age, she says her sexual orientation had not fully developed but she loved sport and this was her priority.

“However, I was aware of homophobia in netball and when I consciously realised I was a lesbian this coincided with a sharp decrease in my motivation to play netball,” she says. “I then switched codes and became a Black Fern after 3-months playing club and then provincial rugby.”

Louisa on the netball courts. Image: Phil Walter
“Rugby had many "out and proud" lesbian players and couples - they were wonderful role models. This then made it easier to be myself and to explore our community in a supported environment. I then began a relationship with a woman and this was open and transparent at club, provincial and national levels.”

Wall says that openly queer women in sports are treated differently than their male counterparts. “There is power in numbers”, she says. “I wasn't the only lesbian in the Black Ferns.”

While there may be many openly lesbian women in, for the national netball team it’s a different story and Wall says “there aren't many ‘out' Silver Ferns which is worthy of note.”

Louisa Wall during her time as a Black Fern
“If an All Black came out they would have to stand on the merit of their performance which would put much pressure on this individual. In an ideal scenario there would be more than one homosexual All Black - there is power in numbers and women athletes have leveraged off one another to create an environment where we are valued and respected of our contribution on the field and as members of teams.”

At the end of May, the country’s leading sports bodies announced they play to tackle discrimination in sport, including homophobia, an initiative Wall says she supports.

“These national sporting organisations have committed to establishing a framework for diversity and inclusion and establishing a programme of agreed areas of focus by 31 December 2016.

“I look forward to learning about these priority areas and how these priorities will be addressed.”

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- 18th July 2016