Rugby pioneers included in Australia Day honours

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

A gold medal certainly helped their cause but Australia Day recognition went far beyond Rio for the Aussie Women’s Sevens.

The Olympic and World Series champions were awarded Order of Australia Medals, capping off a milestone 12 months for women’s sport and rugby sevens and back Alicia Quirk said it was hugely significant to the 12 players recognised.

“We’re really proud we can, in our own way, have this recognition and give something back to the community and share in that same passion and love of sport that all Australians do, so it’s a very special honour,” she said.

“I’ve been overwhelmed with the number of young girls and their parents that say their daughters are now playing rugby and really interested into it.

The Aussie Sevens are enjoying every moment in the sun. Photo: Getty Images“When we switched to rugby sevens, one of our goals was to try and inspire a new generation and change the dynamic of rugby in Australia and give girls the same opportunity we’ve had and I’m really proud that we can see those fruits coming to life.”

Gold medallist Emilee Cherry said it was incredible to be counted among so many high-profile Australians who have been bestowed with an OAM.

“To be standing alongside our team and receive OAM on Australia Day, it’s something very special and you just look at the other Australians, so many iconic and prestigious Australians who have got it before us and who have got it today on Australia Day as well, so it’s something very special to us,” she said.

“We want to leave a great legacy behind us that we’ve made the game better, we’ve made female sport better and it’s something we’ll continue to do.” - Emilee Cherry

Winger Ellia Green, who will make her return from injury at next weekend’s Sydney Sevens, said prior to the announcement that their ability to make a mark on the next generation of women was more important than material goals.

“I always say that what we've done for Australian sport and especially women in sport means more to me than a gold medal,” she said.

“A gold medal's been something we've all been working towards since we were very young but what we've done now will carry on for a long time.”

Phil Kearns

Phil Kearns has been bestowed with an Order of Australia. Photo: Getty ImagesFormer Wallabies captain Phil Kearns was another big rugby name included in the Australia Day honours for his work in founding charity event Balmoral Burn, which has raised more than $27 million for children's medical treatment in Australia and East Timor.

Kearns has been named a Member of the Order of Australia (AM), a group that includes no more than 340 people each calendar year.

The 49-year-old has worked to help promote driveway safety after accidentally running over his young daughter more than 10 years ago, who has since recovered.

Kearns played 67 Tests for the Wallabies in a career spanning 1989-1999, including playing in two winning World Cup sides and captained the national team.

Andrew Purchas

Sydney Convicts founder and LGBT advocate Andrew Purchas was also recognised, after more than a decade working to help develop the team and organised for Sydney to host the world championship, Bingham Cup, in 2014.

Purchas has worked with a number of sports to implement anti-homophobia and inclusion initiatives, also involved in the Skins ‘Homophobia? Knot me.’ rainbow laces campaign.

Three gay rugby clubs now operate in Australia, with the Brisbane Hustlers and the Melbourne Chargers joining the Convicts.

ARU CEO Bill Pulver said Purchas had made a major difference to rugby in his time involved with the game.

“I have worked with Andrew many times over the years and have seen his passion around the need to change sporting culture to make it more inclusive of LGBT people,” he said.

“He has been instrumental in Australian rugby’s adoption of policies and programs to address homophobia and ensure everyone feels safe, welcome and included to play and enjoy our sport.

“He is completely deserving of this honour and I offer him Australian Rugby’s most heartfelt congratulations.”

Ash Hewson

Wallaroos captain Ash Hewson was also recognised in local awards, named Shoalhaven Council's Sportsperson of the Year as part of Australia Day celebrations.

Hewson was the sole point scorer for the Wallaroos recent trans-Tasman Test against the Black Ferns and was also named the Australian Women’s XVs Player of the Year.

She also skippered Sydney University to its second consecutive national championship earlier this year, scoring a massive 45 points for her side through the competition.he