NZ Rugby to feature in Auckland Pride Parade

Newshub can reveal that the All Blacks could be part of this year's Auckland Pride Parade for the first time, as New Zealand Rugby (NZR) will have its own float.

NZR general manager of rugby Neil Sorenson took part in the parade last year on board the ASB float and says he couldn't wait to get his organisation involved.

"It was an incredible experience, and we came back and said look we need to do something ourselves," he told Newshub. "We're in, boots and all, this year."

The decision was an easy one, he said, as rugby evolves to become more inclusive.

Two years ago, NZ Rugby CEO Steve Tew told Newshub the All Blacks were ready for an openly gay player and last year, it became the first national sports organisation to be awarded the Rainbow Tick - a signifier of diversity and inclusivity.

"It's just something that we want to be part of. It's the new New Zealand if you like and I personally love it, and I know my colleagues and the organisation does as well, so we can't wait," Mr Sorensen said.

The Pride Parade celebrates the gay community and has existed under different names, on and off, since 1992. Twenty-six years on, Sorenson says "it's time".

"It's time to open up our organisation and our game to all communities. No matter who you are, what you are, what shape you are, what colour you are, come and play our game."

He says a move like this was always going to take time.

"I think it's just evolution, really. I mean, 20 years ago, we didn't have many Polynesian boys in the All Blacks and now 80% of our All Blacks team is brown."

NZR could not yet say whether any All Blacks would be on the float, as they are still confirming which players might be available - especially as the Super Rugby season is about to begin. 

"Look, we're not going to have 15 All Blacks on the float, but we want as many people as possible to come along - we'll be asking all the teams."

Pride Parade producer Shaughan Woodcock is celebrating the addition to next month's event, saying it sends a clear signal to the rugby community, but also to the wider public.

"It's huge and it does send a really positive message, especially for the more rural communities, where people aren't encouraged, as such, to come out and be who they are," he said. 

"It does speak volumes for other organisations, especially sporting agencies, that there is no place for homophobia in the modern century."

Sports Minister and openly gay MP Grant Robertson played rugby in the 1980s and back, then he could never have imagined a rugby float in a pride parade.

"Part of the reason I stopped playing was the culture that pervaded rugby," he said. "That's changed a lot."

Mr Robertson echoed the sentiment of Mr Woodcock that NZR's decision to be part of the parade was about much more than rugby.

"I think it sends a really important signal that, as a country in 2018, we're accepting and including all sorts of people in our society, and rugby has got to be part of that."