Jason Ball on the significance of the AFL Pride Game, community Pride Cups and the launch of Rainbow Network Sport + Rec

In 2012, I shared my story to the media of what it was like to be a gay footballer. I shared my experience of what it is was like to be in the closet, what it was like to hear homophobic language and what is was like to feel unsafe to be myself in the sporting environment.

I did this in the hope that it would help drive cultural change in the AFL, so that no player, official or supporter would ever feel like they had to choose between being themselves and playing the game that they love – as I once did.

Six years ago I could never have imagined standing outside of AFL House with pride flags flying, and the 50m lines at Etihad Stadium about to be painted rainbow ahead the big clash between the Saints and the Swans for the AFL’s Pride Game, now in its third year.

Nor could I have imagined standing alongside players in rainbow jumpers from football leagues in Hamilton, Shepparton, Geelong, Sandringham and Gippsland, from men’s and women’s footy, from the grassroots to the VFL all the way to the AFL.

Those players, through the Pride Game and the many community Pride Cups being played this weekend and over coming weeks, are sending a strong message of hope, of acceptance, and of inclusion for LGBTI people in sport.

Research from the largest and the first international study conducted into homophobia in sport; Out On The Fields found in their Australian sample that 80% of respondents had experienced homophobia in sport, 87% of gay men, and 75% of lesbian respondents felt the need to be in the closet while playing youth sport, and 75% of all respondents believed an openly gay person would be unsafe as a spectator at a live sporting event.

We still have so much work to do, but the Pride Game and the community Pride Cups fill me with hope because they do far more than challenge homophobia and transphobia. By allowing football clubs and football players to become visible allies to LGBTIQ+ people they become celebrations of diversity that create ripple effects throughout communities.

Rainbow Network which is coordinated by GLHV@ARCSHS have been proud partners with the Pride Cup over the past five years, providing education sessions on LGBTIQ+ inclusion to players and coaches from competing clubs.

Rainbow Network are now launching Rainbow Network Sport + Rec with a view to connect, empower and amplify the work of the many wonderful organisations and people working to promote LGBTIQ+ inclusion in sport and recreation.

Anyone is welcome to subscribe to Rainbow Network Sports + Rec, including LGBTIQ+ organisations, local governments, sporting clubs and associations at all levels, as well as coaches, players, officials and fans.

Subscribing will give you access to networking, sharing of resources and the latest research and best practice relating to LGBTIQ+ inclusion within sport and recreation. Subscribe online now to Rainbow Network Sport + Rec.

Get more information about the AFL Pride Game from the St Kilda Football Club website.

Learn more about how you can be involved in community Pride Cups and view all the upcoming Pride Cups happening in Victoria on the Pride Cup website.

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