SYDNEY, Aug 29 (Reuters) - The Australian Rugby Union have put into place a new inclusion policy in a bid to help stamp out homophobia in the sport, the first of the country's major footballing codes to make a specific commitment on the issue.
The policy was announced this week to coincide with the one-year countdown to the Bingham Cup, also known as the World Cup of gay rugby, which will take place in Sydney next August.
"Developing this inclusion policy is important as it demonstrates that rugby is a game where you feel included and accepted, no matter who you are," the ARU's chief executive Bill Pulver said.
"Australian rugby is making progress to support social justice and diversity. We want to ensure everyone involved in the game is treated with respect and dignity."
Pulver said the ARU would consult with the gay rugby community and local government agencies to decide how best to enact the policy and "further reinforce rugby's intolerance to discrimination and homophobia".
Sydney, home to a large gay and lesbian community as well as the annual Mardi Gras celebration of diversity, will host the Bingham Cup from Aug. 27-31 next year.
Organisers have enlisted heavyweight political support, including Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, for their challenge to all of Australia's major sports to enact similar anti-homophobia policies before the start of the event.
"Homophobia in sport is still common, and it particularly harms young people," said Andrew Purchas, founder of gay rugby club the Sydney Convicts.
"All the major football codes, and all sporting organisations in Australia have an opportunity to make a very meaningful change and create a sporting culture that is accepting and inclusive.
"Strong leadership is needed so players feel accepted and free to come out of the closet, regardless of the level of play."
The issue of gay rights in sport was highlighted at the recent world athletics championships in Moscow, where some competitors criticised Russia's law outlawing the promotion of homosexuality.
U.S. President Barack Obama weighed into the controversy, saying he had "no patience" for Russia on the issue, and it is likely to continue to provoke debate in the run-up to next year's Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Very few professional footballers in Australia have come out as gay, the first and most notable being rugby league player Ian Roberts who publicly declared his sexuality in 1995.
Union international David Pocock is an outspoken advocate of equal marriage rights in Australia and he and his partner Emma have said they will not legally formalise their relationship until their gay and lesbian friends are able to do the same.
Rudd has promised to bring legislation on gay marriage before parliament within 100 days if his Labor government is re-elected on Sept. 7, although he will allow his party a conscience vote on the issue.
Pocock and his Wallabies team mate Adam Ashley-Cooper have backed the campaign for all major sporting codes to adopt inclusion policies and Pocock hailed the ARU initiative.
"Really excited about Aus Rugby developing an Inclusion policy aimed at stamping out homophobia in the sport," he tweeted. (Editing by ....)