A couple of years ago on a trip to South Africa, I was introduced to a then young new team, the Jozi Cats. A few of the players met up with me to tell me all about the team and their plans for inclusionary rugby in South Africa. At the time, to me, the idea of gay rugby didn’t sound so out of the ordinary. I mean, there were gay sports leagues all over the world, and I didn’t perceive South Africa to be a place that wasn’t tolerant of queers — but apparently I wasn’t totally clued into the homophobia that exists in sports in South Africa.
Two years after my initial visit, the Jozi Cats are killing it. After just coming back from another trip there, I was thrilled to hear about their growth and especially about how receptive the rugby association and competitive teams were to them. Originally founded in August of 2015, they began their journey with the simple idea of creating a safe and harassment-free environment for everyone to enjoy the game of rugby, along with building a competitive, social and diverse club, which welcomes players with all levels of experience who enjoy the sport. At the time, they were one of the few clubs that catered to adult beginners or previously experienced players looking for some social or competitive touch or contact rugby. Their approach was fairly simple; anyone who shares and commits to their values was welcome to join the Jozi Cats Rugby Club.
In early 2016, the club decided it was time to reach out to the community and really make their mark. They hired a PR firm that staged a bold campaign that turned gay stereotypes inside out by challenging you to ask “what does a gay rugby player look like?” and used the typical gay slurs one would hear on the sports field to tackle homophobia in rugby. The “Rugby, That’s So Gay” campaign launched that May and went viral. Over 350 million people in over 146 countries viewed the Jozi Cats campaign worldwide.
After their campaign, their next mission was to follow that up with action. Africa’s first gay rugby tour commenced in December 2016, with sights firmly set on shifting the conservative narrative of rugby in South Africa. They traveled throughout South Africa, creating awareness that homophobia had no place in sport and even hosted rugby clinics to inspire other LGBTQ communities around the country to start their own safe community space to enjoy rugby.
The world of sports is still a place where homophobia runs rampant. There have been isolated moments that can’t be taken for granted, but which still leave us wanting more. The Jozi Cats may be a small rugby club, all the way in South Africa, but their efforts are felt around the world through their impressive social media campaigns and outreach. Hopefully they will continue to inspire others in the world of sports to be more inclusive, eventually putting an end to the divisiveness that currently exists today.