LAST year the Sydney Swans played against the St Kilda Saints in the first ever AFL Pride Game held during the premiership season.
It was a triumphant success with members of the LGBTI community and their allies around Australia praising the AFL for helping to promote diversity and inclusion in arguably the most popular sport followed in the country.
Swans player Nick Smith says having a public event like the Pride Game allows the AFL to lead the way when it comes to LGBTI inclusion.
“I think because we’re in public it gives us the opportunity to lead the way in that area,” he says.
“I think that’s the main reason – a lot of people get to see what we’re doing and it sends a positive message.”
Smith adds that the Swans have always been quite vocal and progressive in areas of inclusion, with player Adam Goodes calling out racism on the field and now the team throwing its support behind the Pride Game.
“I think the AFL’s been really good as well, but it’s something that’s a long way from being perfect and we have to continue going along the path to equality,” he says.
“Things are evolving in this area but it’s a long way from being perfect.
“But these are the steps that do influence change, I think it helps to influence the clubs and codes, but also the crowd and the fans.
“We’re creating awareness that we want an inclusive game, and it doesn’t matter what your sexual orientation is.”
The Swans’ Chairman, Andrew Pridham, says after last year’s game the team did receive a handful of letters from people who weren’t supportive, and who used quite hurtful language towards the LGBTI community.
However, he says these letters help to highlight how necessary holding something like the Pride Game is, and he intends to read one of the negative letters out in his chairman’s address at this year’s game.
“One of the core reasons we have a Pride Match is that there’s an element in our society that doesn’t accept people for their differences, and the views of a lot of those people are outdated,” he says.
“I can’t list all the statistics but 75 per cent of LGBTI people believe it wouldn’t be safe to be openly gay in sport.
“The Swans’ view is that football is for everybody and we don’t want to judge anybody. We’re not taking a political stance, but we do want to provide a safe environment.”
Pridham believes beyond just ensuring AFL teams are championing inclusion for LGBTI people, it’s important to show the widespread fans the importance of acceptance as well.
“The fans do take it quite seriously,” he says.
“I know from when we played the first game for points last year, I had a significant number of gay friends and some people I don’t even know call or write to me to say they were incredibly emotional and appreciative.
“They said to have an organisation like the Swans tell them they were welcome and could be themselves meant a lot.
“I think often people in the LGBTI community can feel isolated and have a mainstream organisation like the Swans say it’s fine, you’re part of us, is so important.”
This year’s AFL Pride Game will be played between the Sydney Swans and St Kilda Saints in Sydney in round 18 on July 22.