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Pride in our Game

By Fiona Newton

I’m often asked why we need to have Pride Games and what purpose they serve. The critics will even tell us to keep our politics and our ‘rainbow agenda’ out of football. However, football hasn’t traditionally been an inclusive place for the LGBTIQ+ community.

Image: Dani Brown

In 2015, the first international study into homophobia in sport ‘Out of the Fields’ was released. It was an in-depth look at the experiences of gay, lesbian and bisexual people, including athletes, in sporting culture. The findings in the study were alarming but not surprising. 

In Australia the results showed that:

– 80% of participants witnessed or experienced homophobia in sport—from verbal slurs to physical violence

– 56% of all participants and 72% of gay men believe homophobia is more common in Australian sport than the rest of society

– 75% of Australians believe an openly gay, lesbian or bisexual person would not be very safe as a spectator at a sporting event

The same year that the ‘Out of the Fields’ study was released was the year that I conducted my first interview on a live broadcast on the Joy 949 radio station. The interview was with Jason Ball at the Yarra Glen Pride Cup. Jason Ball came out to his local club and together with the Yarra Glen Football Club they created a game to celebrate LGBTI pride. There were more than 1000 people there that day. The 50-metre arc was painted rainbow and all the players wore a rainbow guernsey. It was the first Pride Game held on a football field in Australia. “This is the club that I grew up in, petrified that people would find out I was gay but to see the club and this whole community come out and support this day, has been the best day of my life,” Jason said. 

That game (and Jason) were the inspiration behind St Kilda Football Club and the Sydney Swans Football Club hosting the first AFLM Pride Game in 2016—a game that has now become an annual event in the AFL fixture. There were many reports of LGBTIQ+ people  going to the football that night for the first time in years after feeling bullied out of the game. Despite all the progress that has been made in society and in sport since then, we are still to see a male player publicly come out.

However, when the AFLW launched it helped normalise same sex relationships! As Caroline Wilson wrote, referring to gay players: “The great achievement of the AFLW in this area has been to expose the complete acceptance, to the point of indifference, to what was once considered controversial”. 

We’ve had Erin Phillips kiss her wife Tracy Gahan after receiving the AFLW Best & Fairest award in 2017. Penny Cula-Reid and Mia-Rae Clifford were the first player partners in the league and there have been many more since then such as Renee Forth and Emma Swanson from GWS and Kara Donnellan and Ebony Antonio from Fremantle. It’s been estimated that 70-80% of the AFLW is made up of same sex attracted players. There is a marriage between gender equality and LGBTIQ+ inclusion that can’t be ignored.

Football clubs have a unique opportunity to transform attitudes and influence our communities and the AFLW Pride Games in round three are about celebrating the progress that we have made,as well as pushing for more progress! Five years ago, none of us would have imagined that we would be here watching women play football, let alone at a Pride Game. We can celebrate now that the Pride Game is part of the annual fixture. There are now 16 out of 18 AFL clubs that have an LGBTI supporter group making up the AFL Pride Collective. We have AFLW players in same-sex relationships that are married, that comfortably bring their partners to the best and fairest nights and are out, loud and proud!

The Chicks Talking Footy team (Fiona Newton, Susannah Mott, Bec Dahl, Bree McAullay and Rachael Hopkins) have had the honour to host the live broadcasts at most of the AFLM and AFLW Pride Games on Joy 949 so far and witness the AFLM and AFLW becoming a more inclusive community.

We will be broadcasting live from 2pm to 5pm on Saturday February 22nd for the Pride Game between the Bulldogs and Carlton at Whitten Oval. We will be chatting with special guests from 2pm and calling the game from 3pm.

The Chicks Talking Footy Team in 2018 broadcasting the AFLW Pride Game on JoyFM with guests Nicole Livingstone and Susan Alberti.

In round three of the 2020 AFLW season there will be three AFLW Pride Games. Bring your rainbow flag or merch to a game and show your support for inclusion in sport.

St Kilda v Melbourne 21st February 7:10pm at RSEA Park
Bulldogs v Carlton 22nd February 3:10pm at Whitten Oval
Geelong v Adelaide 23rd February 5:10pm at GMBHA

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