Jozi Cats, Africa’s first gay and inclusive competitive rugby club, has launched a bold and controversial new initiative to recruit more players and challenge homophobia in sport.
The campaign uses players from the Johannesburg-based rugby team in a series of shots with traditionally derogatory and stereotypical gay terms that question the perception of the kind of gay man the players are.
“From the outset we wanted to be disruptive, but we also had to be sensitive” explained Chris Verrijdt, head of Havas PR South Africa, who spearheaded and created the campaign. “Some of the guys are still coming out to either friends, family or colleagues, so they were involved in every step of the process. We had to make sure everyone was comfortable with the final outcome and I need to applaud each and every one of them for their bravery as this campaign will definitely start a conversation,” said Verrijdt.
For Jozi Cats Chairman, Teveshan Kuni, the campaign was “right place; right time” as although the team had been around for a few months, recruiting new players had plateaued.
“The truth of the matter is that many of our players don’t feel like they can be openly gay and be a rugby player in South Africa,” said Kuni. “So we started Jozi Cats as a space where they could be both. The club is somewhere that players can play social and competitive rugby in a safe and non-judgemental environment.”
When asked about the campaign, Kuni said it was very important to use actual players from the club. “Over-and-above everything else we wanted to show that these are just ordinary guys who love playing rugby and who happen to be gay.”
Despite the country’s acclaimed and progressive constitution and laws, gay and bisexual players in provincial and national rugby teams remain resolutely closeted in South Africa, with not a single one having come out. Things are slightly (but not much) better on the international front.
In August last year, Sam Stanley became the first English professional union player to tell the world that he’s gay.
He followed in the footsteps of Keegan Hirst, who earlier that month became the first British professional Rugby League player to come out, Welsh former British Lions Captain Gareth Thomas who came out in 2009, and Australia’s Ian Roberts who came out in 1995.
Kuni went on to say that Jozi Cats caters for all levels of rugby experience with teams for touch, tag and full contact rugby disciplines with practices held at Wanderers Sports Club on Thursday nights and Saturday mornings. In terms of where the club is headed, Kuni has ambitious goals.“Our sights are set firmly on representing South Africa at a global gay rugby level,” he said.
“Everyone sees the heart of rugby lying within two nations, New Zealand and South Africa and it’s a tragedy that we don’t have a team, despite gay club rugby being around for over 20 years. But in order to do that we need the skills, support, sponsorship and ultimately the players.”
For more information and updates on Jozi Cats, find them on Facebook and on Instagram. Check out all the campaign images and watch a behind the scenes video below.