IN the continuing push to stamp out homophobia in the sport and celebrate diversity, two country Aussie Rules teams will compete for the inaugural Pride Cup next month.

The two local teams from the east and north-east of Melbourne, Yarra Glen and Yarra Junction, will battle it out for the cup on a football field featuring rainbows at the 50m lines.

The event has the backing of the AFL, who will host a pre-match luncheon with a discussion on diversity in sport with leaders from sporting, human rights, mental health and LGBTI organisations. The Yarra Ranges council and a number of local business are also on board to support the event.

Yarra Glen is the team of Jason Ball, the first openly-gay Aussie Rules player who has fought for a range of anti-homophobia reforms across the league since coming out publicly in 2012.

Ball will be playing in the Pride Cup, and said the match would have special significance for him.

“This is my home town, my team, the team that I played junior football with. It’s the team that I grew up in, being petrified that if I came out I’d be kicked out of the team. So it is very personal for me,” Ball told the Star Observer.

“The message of acceptance that we hope to get out there through the Pride Cup is one that will resonate through the community, and I know that message is one that I definitely could have used when I was here and struggling to come to terms with who I was.”

Ball’s coach Dean de Munk was also enthusiastic about the event.

“Our team has always been united in supporting Jason and in making our club open to all. The Pride Cup shows that in our sport it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from – what matters is your courage and sacrifice for one another on the field,” he said.

Opposing team Yarra Junction’s coach Simon Caldwell echoed de Munk’s focus on the football field, promising the inaugural Pride Cup would be a good game of football.

“Our teams are traditional rivals and we are going to be giving it our all for the Pride Cup match,” he said.

“There will be a lot of attention on this game and our players are up for the challenge.”

As well as the match and the other events on the day, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) will hold briefings for players, coaches and staff at the competing clubs in the lead up. The aim is to teach clubs about the importance of celebrating and being inclusive of sexual and gender diversity in sport.

“Everyone, regardless of who they are, should feel safe to participate in sport without facing discrimination. It is terrific to see Australia’s most iconic game celebrating diversity and inclusion and taking a stand against homophobia,” VEOHRC Commissioner Kate Jenkins said.

The Pride Cup will take place at 2.10 pm on Saturday, May 3 at the Yarra Glen Football Ground.

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