The AFL will extend its racial and religious vilification policy to cover sexual orientation in an attempt to stamp out homophobia.

When implemented the AFL will become one of the world’s leading sporting codes to proactively address homophobia as prohibited conduct.

AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou unexpectedly announced the changes on the ABC Offsiders program on Sunday morning, confirming the vilification rule would also cover people with disabilities.

We’re living in an age now where those things are unacceptable, Demetriou told the ABC. We’re a mature society. I don’t think anyone frowns upon Lindsay Lohan because she comes out and says she’s a lesbian.

I hope nobody in society is criticised or ridiculed based on their sexual orientation, their ethnicity, their background. We live in a very multicultural, diverse community which we should all be very grateful for.

Anyone now found to have engaged in homophobic vilification will be required to attend an education program conducted by the Equal Opportunity Commission of Victoria or similar body. Where conciliation has not been met, complaints can be heard by the AFL Tribunal or be referred to the AFL Commission.

Sanctions will apply to those who fail to attend education programs and clubs will also be liable for the behaviour of coaches and players and could face fines up to $50,000 if a serious breach is found.

Anti-homophobia in sport campaigner Rob Mitchell praised the change as a perfect outcome, and said the push to change the AFL’s policy had been brewing for some time.

There hasn’t been the ignition source as there was with the racism policy with Michael Long and Nicky Winmar, but it’s long overdue, he said.

What we’re talking about is a health issue and it’s a positive step to combat this, especially the repercussions for rural clubs.

The Australian Sports Commission’s Nadine Cohen welcomed the AFL’s move, saying it serves as a great example to other codes.

The Australian Sports Commission actively promotes harassment-free sport and the AFL is congratulated on its latest measures, she said.

The policy change puts the AFL ahead of the National Rugby League in protecting players from specific sexual orientation vilification, although the NRL does mention sexual orientation in its general code of conduct.

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