jason ball web smlAnnual LGBTI soccer tournament Pride Football Australia is on this weekend in Melbourne, and this year the competition has announced gay AFL player Jason Ball as its 2013 patron.

The tournament pits the local men’s and women’s teams from the Melbourne Rovers against their Sydney counterparts in men’s club the Sydney Rangers for the Justin Fashanu Cup, and in women’s club the Flying Bats for the Julie Murray Cup.

Currently playing for the Yarra Glen Football Club, Ball has become the face of a number of campaigns against homophobia in sport since 2012, including the influential No To Homophobia ads aired by the AFL during last year’s preliminary finals.

Despite playing in a different code, Ball said there are common experiences of homophobia across most male team sports.

“When we look at AFL, EPL [English Premier League], NFL it’s the same problem again and again. It’s a culture that has traditionally been very masculine and with that comes a lot of homophobia, a lot of homophobic language, and this is what needs to get challenged,” he said.

“Codes can learn from each other in finding ways in moving beyond that kind of prejudice in making all sport a more inclusive and welcoming place.”

Ball said it is important for sporting codes to take action against homophobia at the elite level, but they also need to engage with players at a community level.

“Both are equally important. One aspect of the debate is that what you do at the pro-level tends to trickle down to the community….the number participating in sport in regional Australia, the amount of people who feel excluded or feel they have to stop playing for who they are, if your initiative is not reaching them, then you are failing,” Ball argued.

He also said major sporting codes needed to be less afraid of engaging with homophobic fans, and argued players wouldn’t stay in the closet if they knew they had the support of their clubs.

“Players deal with abuse from fans all the time. What they are more worried about is them being seen that they are distracting from playing football, and its up to the club to make sure they know that that is not the case,” Ball said.

Melbourne Rovers member Alex Mungall told the Star Observer he was glad to have Ball as the Pride Football Australia patron, highlighting the event’s role as more than just a tournament.

While Ball plays in a different code, Mungall said it was important to have a gay sportsman role model involved in Pride Football Australia given an absence of positive influences in Australian soccer. He mentioned Adelaide United player Antony Golec, who alienated gay soccer fans with homophobic comments on Twitter in 2011.

“After some agitation the football association did censure him, but his career continues and the damage could have been done,” Mungall said.

Mungall argued homophobia in sport created a vicious cycle, excluding a group already at risk of mental illness from an activity proven to improve mental health.

“Sports authorities are quite focused on elite sport and not focussed on health and recreation,” Mungall said.

“However, if they considered the impact of that they would realise that by minorities feeling isolated or excluded from a sport, that has a direct impact on mental health in those communities.”

Mungall said the competition would be tough at Pride Football Australia on the weekend, and the Rovers men’s team were underdogs going into the Justin Fashanu Cup.

“Some of the Sydney players went to Belgium for the World OutGames in August and they won the competition, so it’ll be tough,” said Mungall.

Pride Football Australia is on this Saturday, 5 October at the Kevin Bartlett Reserve in Burnley from 12pm.

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