Believed to be the first Pride Game for a professional sporting competition in the world, the St Kilda Football Club has today launched the inaugural AFL Pride Game against the Sydney Swans in the Round 21 clash.
“This is a proud and important day for our football club and the AFL,” said St Kilda CEO Matt Finnis. “I want to pay tribute to Jason Ball and the Yarra Glen Football Club who initiated the 2014 Community Pride Cup which paved the way for this inaugural AFL Pride Game.”
Finnis said the Saints were committed to this game because ‘pride’ is the opposite of ‘shame’ and that St Kilda firmly believes that communities can only thrive when all people belong.
“This belief stems from our bayside birthplace where the annual Pride March takes place. It’s a progressive, eclectic place where everyone is welcome,”said Finnis. “Sadly, we know from research that many in the LGBTIQ community do not feel safe at sporting events and do not feel they can truly be themselves at sporting clubs.”
“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.”
In a show of support for the LGBTIQ community, St Kilda players will wear rainbow patterned numbers on their guernsey and Sydney players will wear rainbow socks. The 50m arch, match-day ball and goal umpire flags will also be branded with the rainbow colours or logo – the symbol of LGBTIQ pride – and other ‘welcoming’ activations will also take place.
Sydney Swans CEO and Managing Director Andrew Ireland said the match will help raise awareness and champion change. “The Sydney Swans are very proud to be playing in the AFL’s first Pride Game against St Kilda in Round 21,” said Ireland. “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. 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. Through the Pride Game we have a wonderful opportunity to educate and show how sport can lead the way in creating change in our community.”
Jason Ball, who in 2012 became the first male Australian Rules football player at any level to publicly come out as gay in the media, said the game will send a powerful message to young LGTBIQ people all over Australia that they are welcome and safe in our sport.
“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,” said Ball. “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.
“I’ve seen the impact a Pride Game had in my local community; it has changed the culture of clubs and created a safer, more inclusive environment for all players and supporters. I am so proud to see it taken to the national stage and I have no doubt it will be a life-changing event for many within the AFL family.”
The Round 21 Pride Game will take place at Etihad Stadium on Saturday 13 August 2016. For more information, visit: www.saints.com.au for details.
Image: Jack Lonie, Blake Acres and Jack Newnes model the St Kilda Pride Game guernsey to be worn in Round 21 – photo by Malcolm Wallace (courtesy of St Kilda Football Club)