NRL: The National Rugby League has publicly voiced its support for marriage equality, following an appeal from Ian Roberts, the first openly gay player in the history of the game reports Junkee.

A champion in the ’80s and ’90s, Roberts came out as gay in 1994 and is widely credited as being the first prominent Australian sportsman to do so. Last week, he wrote to NRL CEO Todd Greenberg, urging the league to back the Yes campaign in the upcoming marriage equality postal survey.

“As you know, I came out publicly 25 years ago,” Roberts wrote. “The ARL [Australian Rugby League] failed to make the most of that moment. They could have been on the front foot, leading the way for all sporting bodies, and not just sporting bodies but for all major corporations. The ARL chose to ignore that opportunity because it was an awkward conversation to be having back in 1994.”

“It’s not awkward any longer — it is a necessary one,” he continued. “I don’t want the game I love to again miss this moment in history. This is about being brave. It’s about doing the right thing. It’s about saving lives because that’s the power our game has. It is a game for everyone.”

In his public response, Greenberg said: “One of the key pillars of rugby league is inclusiveness – and the game has a duty to back up its policy with action”.

“There is a place for everyone in rugby league,” he said. “It might be as a junior, as a volunteer, as a match official or as an NRL player. And we need to treat everyone equally both on and off the field and that’s why we will publicly support the same-sex marriage proposal.”

“This will save lives,” he said. “This is a moment in time that will be remembered forever.”

According to his letter, Roberts will reach out to the heads of the nation’s other major sporting codes over the coming weeks.

AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan publicly declared his code’s support for marriage equality in 2014.