Australian football makes history with first LGBT Pride Game.
The game between St Kilda and Sydney Swans was played on Saturday night with the AFL saying it wants to start a conversation about discrimination against LGBTI people.
St Kilda chief executive Matt Finnis, who raised a rainbow flag at AFL House on Tuesday, said it was an important issue.
“It’s a historic moment, not just in AFL but in world sport,” he said.
“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,” he explained. “We want the LGBTIQ community to feel welcome and safe at AFL games and free to be themselves.”
The Pride Game initiative was initiated by Victorian Australian rules player player Jason Ball, the code’s first openly gay male player, in an effort to promote understanding in the AFL and among its fans.
“I came to understand a lot of the homophobic language and behaviour wasn’t coming from a place of hatred towards me or gay people, but rather just ignorance and not knowing the impact on me,” Ball said in a statement.
St Kilda players donned guernseys with rainbow-coloured numbers for the match, while the Swans wore rainbow socks. Goal umpires waved rainbow flags, and the 50 metre arcs on the field were be multi-coloured.
The Rainbow Swans have 360 members – one of the biggest LGBTI supporter groups in the AFL – who get together regularly to attend home games and watch the Swans at local establishments when they’re on the road.
There are still no openly gay players in the AFL.
Although the Swans ultimately triumphed, beating the Saints with a 70-point win, the importance of the game to fans of all stripes could not be diminished.