According to the Rugby Players Association boss Rob Nicholl, homophobic discrimination is not widespread among New Zealand players. It is a comforting notion and one that might be encouraged by this country's attitude towards the likes of same-sex marriages.

But if such is the case, why has a worldwide study of homophobia in sport found that New Zealand has the highest number of 22-year-old males hiding they are gay and the second-highest number of lesbians who are concealing their sexuality?

The findings of the "Out on the Fields" study, which was supported by a coalition of sports organisations, raise awkward questions. It is not tenable to suggest they do not exist. That would only foster casual homophobia.

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Rather, the focus should be on how this situation has come about in what is, by most yardsticks, a progressive society, and what must be done to remedy it.

Much of the problem undoubtedly relates to the fact that no All Black has been prepared to say he is gay. This country has not had the sort of cathartic experience provided by Ian Roberts in Australian rugby league and Gareth Thomas in Welsh rugby.


In both cases, it quickly became apparent that most people were far more interested in their playing ability than their sexuality. Locally, Olympic rower Robbie Manson has found the same.

Nor has this country a figure such as David Pocock, who during a recent Super 15 match, was courageous enough to call out a fellow-player for making homophobic slurs. That player, Waratahs forward Jacques Potgieter, was fined A$20,000 by the Australian Rugby Union. He later visited Australia's only gay rugby club to apologise.

Kiwis representative and new Warriors signing Isaac Luke was likewise fined $10,000 for a homophobic slur on social media. He must also attend an education programme on tolerance and equality.

The decision to come down hard on such attitudes and language is part of a strategy that New Zealand sporting bodies must also consider. All four Australian football codes and Cricket Australia have agreed to introduce policies to end discrimination.

They have reacted strongly to a problem that only the naive would believe is not present here. Indeed, it occasionally bubbles to the surface, as when All Black Israel Dagg used the word "fag" in a tweet.

In the subsequent furore, Dagg apologised and indicated he had not meant to be offensive. That was surely so, but, once again, a deep-rooted culture of casual homophobia lay exposed.

Only if this is tackled will gay men and women be encouraged to participate in all sports at all levels.