The AFL has not ruled out a dedicated Pride round for the men’s competition, but has no immediate plans to add to the themed rounds already in place.
Tanya Hosch, the league’s general manager of social policy and inclusion, said all 18 clubs had embraced pride round in the AFLW, as major sports grapple with how to take a stand on social issues without alienating some players and supporters.
Lance Franklin of the Swans wears rainbow-coloured socks during the round 21 AFL match between the St Kilda Saints and the Sydney Swans.Credit:Scott Barbour
Sports such as soccer and basketball have introduced pride rounds to promote inclusion, celebrate the LGBTQ community, and help stamp out homophobia.
The AFLW’s pride round was introduced in 2021 and has been widely embraced, although GWS player Haneen Zreika, chose not to wear the jumper for religious reasons.
In the NBL, the Cairns Taipans opted out of wearing the inaugural pride jersey, drawing a sharp response from the competition’s first openly gay player, Isaac Humphries. In the NRL, seven of Manly’s players refused to play in a rainbow jersey last season. An exclusive anonymous poll by The Sydney Morning Herald this week revealed NRL bosses were overwhelmingly opposed to a competition-wide pride round.
“There are a number of themed rounds in the men’s competition, such as [the] Sir Doug Nicholls [Indigenous] Round and Anzac Appeal Round, which promote really important national conversations and causes,” said Hosch.
“We’re committed to the themed rounds we have across AFL and AFLW but that doesn’t mean a pride round in AFL won’t be considered in the future.”
Hosch added that the annual pride game between St Kilda and the Sydney Swans in the AFL had been a success.
Swans chief executive Tom Harley said the pride fixture against the Saints had drawn a positive response from Sydney’s fans, but said it was up to individual clubs to make the call on participating in pride games.
“You’d like to live in a world where you don’t need to necessarily have designated rounds for certain things, but certainly from a Swans point of view, by designating it ourselves and playing it, it’s only been a good thing,” said Harley.
“I think it would be fair to say that the men’s competition is different to the women’s competition in a lot of ways and this is obviously one of them. For the time being, we’ll just continue to do what we do and fly our flags and look forward to the pride game every year.”
He added the feedback from the rainbow Swans community and broader fan base has been: “Hey, we want to welcome everyone to the football”.
Christine Granger, chief executive of Proud 2 Play, an organisation that works with sporting bodies on LGBTQ inclusion, said there was “a lot more work that needs to be done” before the AFL could run a successful pride round.
“I think the AFL need to understand the culture that exists within the men’s game before they go into a pride round and what that means to them and to their sport,” Granger said.
“We know that for sports where they haven’t done that, such as the NRL, and even within the NBL, most … clubs got on board with it, but there was also backlash as well, so there needs to be an understanding of what it is and what it means and why they’re doing it.”
Granger said rushing into a pride round could cause further harm.
“We have to understand the sports and the different makeups of those sports and what that means for different people … you have to understand that sometimes it’s not as straightforward as just putting on a pride jersey and showing your support … for some people, there may be ramifications for them doing that in their personal life and within their community,” Granger said.
“I think that’s a really difficult thing to balance sometimes. So, it’s not as black and white as we would like it to be … I think that sometimes we have to understand that someone may support our community, but for them to visibly show that support could actually be really detrimental to them.
“And that’s why I think the conversation and the pre-work is really important, so that we can try and prevent this becoming such a public issue in such a public debate.”
Harley said the Swans invested a lot of time, energy and resources in education leading up to the pride game, such as keynote speakers addressing the players.
“This is me paraphrasing their [the players’] language saying, you know, I want to play a role in creating a better and safer Swans ecosystem. So, that’s why and that’s the sort of education that we roll out to the playing group,” Harley said.
“I’ve been really pleased [and] proud of our players, and I can’t speak on their behalf as to whether they’re chastised for their view, but I don’t think so. And if they were, well, it would be water off a Swan’s back.”
Similarly, Pride Cup chief executive James Lolicato said for a pride round to be successful in Australia, it would need to be an opt-in process and developed in the right way.
“If different organisations want to go down this path of running a pride round or a pride activation, the work behind the scenes needs to be done first … because at the end of the day what we’re trying to do is break down those mental health and wellbeing deficits we see in the LGBTI community, and that takes a long time.
“It’s not about waving a rainbow guernsey, it’s about doing that background work and getting the information, the education and those behaviour changes that we need to see.”
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