In a HUGE step for diversity and inclusion, the Sydney and St Kilda footy teams have announced today that they’ll be officially launching the inaugural AFL Pride Game in 2016. It’s an event that St Kilda CEO Matt Finnis claims will be the first of its type for a professional sporting competition in the world.
The upcoming game on 13 August will have St Kilda players wearing rainbow patterned numbers on their guernsey, while Sydney players will wear rainbow socks. The ground will also be painted with a rainbow 50m arch while the match-day ball and goal umpire flags will also be branded with the rainbow colours or logos.
— Jill Stark (@jillastark) July 20, 2016
The pride game seeks to challenge some of the disturbing statistics uncovering ingrained homophobia in sport.
For example, recent research featured in study ‘Out of the fields’ found that 80 percent of all participants and 82 percent of LGB participants said they have witnessed or experienced homophobia in sport, and 78 percent of participants believe an openly gay, lesbian or bi-sexual person would not be very safe as a spectator at a sporting event.
Jason Ball, the Greens candidate for Higgins who is also recognised as the first Australian Rules players to publicly come out as gay in the media, said the game is an important message to young LGTBIQ people. Speaking today, he said:
“Growing up, the footy club was the one place I thought I’d never be accepted. Homophobic language was routinely used on the field and it left me scared to be myself,”
— St Kilda FC (@stkildafc) July 20, 2016
“Struggling in silence with my identity caused me so much heartache and pushed me to a very dark place. An event like this Pride Game would have made all the difference and given me confidence that I could belong.”
Finnis announced the game, with Ball and went on to say that:
“We want the LGBTIQ community to feel welcome and safe at AFL games and free to be themselves.
“We also know that suicide rates in the LGBTIQ community are significantly higher than the wider community – that is a horrible fact and we want to do our part to help address that.”
— VicHealth (@VicHealth) July 20, 2016
At the launch event today, Sydney Swans CEO and Managing Director Andrew Ireland echoed Finnis’ sentiments saying that the game is all about ending homophobia in sport. He said,
“The Swans aim to be a leader in offering an open, safe and inclusive environment that celebrates diversity. To that end, we are proud to have welcomed the Rainbow Swans as our official LGBTIQ supporter group,” said Ireland.
“Our home at the SCG is in the heartland of the Mardi Gras, one of Sydney’s most colourful celebrations of diversity. One of the key messages of the Mardi Gras is to end homophobia in sport – it’s an issue our football club is passionate about and one we hope this match will raise awareness of.”
The mental health of LGBT Australians is cited as a major driver behind the pride game. According to Beyond Blue, same-sex attracted Australians have up to 14 times higher rates of suicide attempts than their heterosexual counterparts and experience disproportionate levels of depression and verbal and physical abuse.