Kathmandu (Pahichan) March 18 – Gay and lesbian AFL fans are pushing for an annual Pride Round after last year’s game between St Kilda and Sydney prompted the formation of LGBTIQ supporter groups across the league.
The pride game involved players wearing guernseys or socks that featured rainbow colours, and goal umpires who waved rainbow flags instead of white flags.
Some eight LGBTIQ supporter groups have since emerged, including the Rainbow Crows, the Rainbow Swans, the Purple Bombers, Ruby Demons, Blue Roos, Pink Magpies, Golden Tigers, and Saints Pride.
Brett McAloney has been a member of the Adelaide Football Club for about 17 years.
Like other supporters, he barracks and cheers proudly for his team, and he even boos the umpires.
He is just like the average AFL fan, and he also happens to be gay.
“We are just like anyone else and that’s certainly what we hope to put forward. We wanted to be treated equally and have an equal playing field,” Mr McAloney said.
He launched the Rainbow Crows LGBTIQ Supporter Group in the wake of last year’s pride game.
Mr McAloney admits that in a time where his community is seeking acceptance and inclusion, he often gets questioned about why it segregated itself by forming its own supporter group.
He said the group felt safer together after repeatedly hearing homophobic slurs at games and felt it could help send a message about inclusion by standing out.
“Being in a group helps us get to know our fellow community members,” Mr McAloney said.
“We want to really encourage that supportive environment where we can go along and enjoy the football just like anyone else without that concern or worry about comments that could be yelled out.
“The reaction has been really positive. People congratulate us and commend us for being visible.”
Together the groups have called themselves the AFL Pride Collective and are pursuing a conversation about homophobia in the game.
Supporter groups a ‘positive thing’
AFL general manager of inclusion and social policy Tanya Hosch said football was a game for everyone.
A goal umpire waves rainbow flags ahead of the game.
“We want to see everyone participating and enjoying the game and if there are groups in our community who want to band together to enjoy the sport together then that’s only a positive thing,” she said.
“Nothing’s going to change overnight but the inclusion is there. I think that these supporter groups are going to help us have these conversations in a better way and in a more progressive way.”
The AFL has no plans to launch a Pride Round and for the moment remains happy to let supporters and players drive the discussion about homophobia in the game.
It is, however, one of six national sporting bodies taking part in the Pride in Sport Index — a survey to determine how inclusive a sport is.
Other participants include the four major football codes as well as Cricket Australia and Water Polo Australia.
“This (Pride in Sport) Index is incredibly important in creating visible change in Australian sport so that people know that when they come to play or when they come to watch they are going to be welcome, free from vilification, harassment or bullying,” Pride in Diversity senior manager Ross Wetherbee said.
Study on homophobia in sport reveals startling figures
The index follows an international study in 2015 that found 80 per cent of Australians involved in sport witnessed homophobia and 75 per cent believed that an openly gay person would not be safe as a spectator at a sporting event.
It also found 80 per cent of respondents believed gay people were not accepted within the sporting community.
Despite the startling findings, Mr Wetherbee said the AFL was making good initial progress with “visible initiatives” such as the Pride Game.
“When as a code you create a welcoming environment and you send a really strong message that LGBTI people can be part of your game, whether it be as a player, a coach or a spectator, then it’s a no-brainer that people want to set up supporter groups like these,” he said.
He also praised openly gay footballers who played in the inaugural season of the AFL Women’s league this year.
The AFLW also ran a float in Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras this year.
“When you see people who are able to be themselves and not face taunts or negativity on and off the field, then more people are going to feel comfortable coming forward,” Mr Wetherbee said.
Elite male footballers yet to come out
But despite the AFL community’s acceptance and celebration of gay footballers, no elite male footballer has come out publicly.
“I think there’s a lot of attention on the question of why haven’t we seen an elite men’s player come out as gay but as our CEO Gillon McLachlan said, ‘aren’t we all past this?’,” Ms Hosch said.
“Our job is to make sure the sport is safe and so that if people do want to be open about those things they can do so without any negative consequences.
“We’re going to have another pride game in round 18 on July 22 so I think the work that St Kilda and Sydney are putting into that is a pathway to more conversation about these issues and the way that the AFL industry shows its support to all Australians, no matter their backgrounds.”
She said a Pride Round would no doubt be discussed in the future.
“But there is some criticism about the number of themed rounds we have so we want to make sure we aren’t making the space too congested with themes every week.”
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