24/08/2017 09:08 SAST | Updated 24/08/2017 12:41 SAST

Rugby Bodies Sign Memorandum To Tackle Homophobia in SA

"It's about going against the grain and standing up for the underdog."

Members of the Jozi Cats rugby team. Photo: Supplied

Johannesburg's oldest rugby club has announced its official support for the Exclusive Books Jozi Cats -- the country's first and only gay rugby club.

This follows a landmark move of an anti-homophobia memorandum of understanding that has been signed.

The club also announced it would be working with major rugby unions like the Golden Lions Rugby Union, and SA Rugby, to tackle homophobia at all levels of the sport.

The partnership was signed between Diggers Rugby Club and Jozi Cats.

At the signing ceremony, Diggers Rugby Club chairman Riaan Matthys said part of its tradition was to stand up for the rookies.

"Diggers has a nearly 125-year tradition of going against the grain and standing up for the underdog, which is what led to our formation all those years ago. It's part of our DNA," said Matthys.

"At Diggers everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, is not only welcome, but safe as well."

The MOU recognises and respects the rights of players and officials "to be involved with rugby without discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or identification."

It emphasises the common goal of inclusion and the elimination of homophobia in rugby.

The memorandum was signed before the Jozi Cats take on their first contact rugby tournament in South Africa.

"This week is quite momentous because we just celebrated our second birthday, and this weekend we are playing our first official contact rugby tournament in South Africa," said Jozi Cats chairman Chris Verridjt.

"After that we'll be fielding a match at the Diggers 7's tournament in September."

The two teams have also embarked on a series of orientation workshops where transformation within sport is dealt with, he said.

"There weren't any challenges. For me as chairman there was a methodical approach. We wanted to make a safe space for our admin, staff, and players, so the workshop was very important to us," said Verridjt.

"It also means that if anything did happen one day, we had a bit of recourse, and so nobody could say they didn't know how to deal with situations that arise."