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First openly gay rugby league player Keegan Hirst comes out of retirement

His decision is to push for greater inclusivity in the world of sport.

2022-08-02

Words: Emily Maskell; pictures: Attitude

Keegan Hirst, the first British rugby league star to come out as gay, has reversed his retirement decision with the hope to play for the Batley Bulldogs for the rest of 2022.

Hirst, 34, has explained his decision to step back onto the pitch is after a number of Australian players boycotted their match in protest at a shirt promoting LGBTQ+ equality.

Tweeting about his return, Hirst wrote: 

“Covid added to my own personal circumstances which made me lose touch with some of the things that I hold dearest to me; friends and rugby league,” Hirst told Sky Sports.

“After the recent thinly-veiled homophobia over a rainbow shirt, I thought how can I help with visibility and inclusion? By lacing up my boots, putting on a playing shirt, and getting back out there,” Hirst added.

He continues: “That’s how I help with visibility and inclusion. I still have plenty of games in me and I’m looking forward to helping Batley continue their incredible season.”

As Hirst notes, his return to rugby was spurred on by the news that last week seven Australian rugby players refused to wear their team's new LGBTQ+ inclusive Pride jersey

Regarding the controversy, Hirst tweeted: “The ironic thing about the [Sea Eagles] Pride/player boycott saga is that I know what goes on in RL changing rooms. And a lot of it would be seen as being MUCH “gayer” than a rainbow on a jersey….”

The individuals who boycotted the game over the Pride jersey are said to not have been consulted about the jersey change.

Des Hasler, the Manly Sea Eagles team coach, said the lack of consultation with players as well as the LGBTQ community was "a significant mistake”.

Hirst has also been extensive in his praise of the England lionesses with their win Euro 2022 win at Wembley at the weekend (31 July).

He noted that the women’s team is made up of straight and LGBTQ+ players and that representation is integral for the next generation of sports stars. 

Hirst became the first British professional rugby league player to come out as gay in 2015

At the time, he said: “I thought I’d be disowned by friends and family but I haven’t been... The support from my teammates and other rugby league players has really surprised me, it’s all been positive.”

The Attitude September/October issue is available to download and order in print now and will be on newsstands from Thursday 4 August.