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.

-œWe’re living in an age now where those things are unacceptable, Demetriou told the ABC.

-œWe’re a mature society. I don’t think anyone frowns upon Lindsay Lohan just because she comes out and says she’s a lesbian.

-œI 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.

AFL football operations manager Adrian Anderson confirmed the AFL had informed all 16 clubs about the changes. He said wording of the new vilification rules now extends to ban prejudice on the basis of sexual orientation, preference or identity or special disability (including a disease or illness).

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 coaches and players who fail to attend education programs. 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 -œa perfect outcome, and said the push to change the AFL’s policy had been brewing for some time.

-œThere 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.

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

Australian Coalition for Equality spokesman Corey Irlam said the change was more than a word inclusion.

-œThe inclusion of sexual orientation in the AFL vilification policy sends a strong message to the football community that homophobia is not acceptable, Irlam told Southern Star.

-œJust like a decade ago with the introduction of rules to deal with racial vilification, the AFL is again showing they are leaders in tolerance and inclusion in sport.

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