A RETIRED AFL player has claimed that only when a group of AFL players come out publicly, will LGBTI people be fully accepted in the sport.

Russell Greene, a Hawthorn Hall of Fame player was speaking at the sport’s inaugural Pride Game launch in Melbourne on Wednesday.

“We were quite brutal in the way we would speak about gay people when I was playing,” he said.

“The terminology we used was foul… if I could go back in time and change it, I would.”

When Greene’s son came out to him, he said it was one of the most moving experiences of his life and now his daughter Angie runs an organisation dedicated to stamping out homophobia in sport.

“Until we’ve got four or five players who are willing to come together as a group to come out, nothing will change,” he said.

“When we do have players who are out, that when we know the culture will be changing in my opinion.

Jason Ball was one of the first out AFL players and was credited as the inspiration of the Pride Game, following his team Yarra Glen’s creation of the Pride Cup. He said people should come out if and when they are comfortable to.

“There would be a lot of pressures for someone playing at the AFL level, it was different for me because I was playing in a country league,” he said.

The Pride Game is believed to be one of the first of its kind at a professional sports level in the world and will be played in Round 21 of this year’s AFL season between the St Kilda Saints and Sydney Swans.

In a show of support for the LGBTI 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  and other ‘welcoming’ activities will also take place.

The St Kilda jumpers and football that will be used for the Pride Game with merchandise available to buy.

The St Kilda jumpers and football that will be used for the Pride Game with merchandise available to buy.

Speakers at the launch included Saints’ player Sam Gilbert, Victorian Minister for Equality Martin Foley and Saints’ CEO Matt Finnis.

Finnis said the Saints and Swans were the perfect choices to host the first Pride Game as their suburbs host their cities’ respective LGBTI pride marches.

“We can’t ignore the research. The reality is LGBTI people don’t feel welcome at the footy,” he said.

“But we can put our hand up and say that we will try to make a change.

“We’re here to say if you’re ready to be who you are, we are happy to have you in our game.”

Sydney Swans CEO and Managing Director Andrew Ireland said the match will help raise awareness and champion change.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

© Star Observer 2017 | For the latest in lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans* and intersex (LGBTI) news in Australia, be sure to visit starobserver.com.au daily. You can also read our latest magazines or Join us on our Facebook page and Twitter feed.