Rugby star Sharni Williams recognised for LGBTQI work

·3-min read

Rugby has always been a game where Sharni Williams feels the most comfortable about who she is.

But the Olympic and world cup champion's roaring self-confidence was almost shattered after a workplace incident left her deeply unsettled.

"Sharni has never actively hidden who she is," Williams's wife Mel Smale told the audience at the Pride in Sports Awards.

"However, in 2019, that feeling of acceptance was threatened when she was impacted by hate speech in the workplace."

But it was the decisive action Williams's employer took that changed her outlook on the world.

"This was the catalyst that led her to look within and realise she had to stand up and be a voice."

The openly lesbian rugby champion has been recognised for her work in promoting LGBTQI inclusion on the sporting field, receiving the LGBTQ Out Role Model Award.

"You can't be what you can't see so having that visibility is huge to make people recognise that there's a place for them," Williams said from France where she is in competition.

"It's nice to be recognised. But at the same time I'm just going out there being me and creating a safe space for other people."

Williams has put her name to causes such as trans inclusion in rugby and standing up against intolerance following the Manly Sea Eagles pride jersey controversy.

She came out during the Tokyo Olympics after donning her now iconic rainbow headgear.

The Pride in Sport Awards acknowledge athletes and organisations for their role and initiatives in making Australian sports more inclusive for LGBTQI people.

Tennis Australia's Kerry Tavrou won the Ally Award for his work in developing initiatives such as the Glam Slam during the Australian Open and grassroots opportunities for LGBTQI players.

Tennis Australia itself has been recognised as one of Australia's best organisations for inclusion alongside Netball Victoria, Touch Football Australia and Macquarie University Sport.

Hockey ACT was named the Sporting Organisation of the Year.

"We're not really that inspirational. We're the more hands on nitty-gritty organisation that get down to the work," chief executive Rob Sheekey said.

"We consider our community to be a family and not a membership base and, because of that, we want our family to feel respected at all times."

Sam Dengate from the T Generation gym picked up the LGBTQ Inclusive Coach Award.

As a trans man, Dengate has been credited with launching the first-ever trans and non-binary powerlifting competition in Australia.

Dengate says the coach's role is important in setting an inclusive sporting environment.

"You're the first impression that (people are) going to get of a space so I would argue that a coach's role is the most crucial," Dengate said.

Melbourne United's coverage of basketballer Isaac Humphries' coming out earned the club the positive media award.

Humphries became the first openly gay male professional basketballer in a top-tier league in the world.

The AFL and NRL were recognised as bronze sporting organisations for their efforts in making their codes more inclusive of sexual identities.

National and state sporting organisations are graded on inclusion initiatives and programs under the Pride in Sport Index and monitored on how each organisation is tracking.