TWO country Aussie rules football teams will compete for the third annual Pride Cup in Melbourne later this month, in an effort to show their support for diversity and LGBTI-inclusion in sport.

The match will take place between undefeated Pride Cup champions Yarra Glen and 2015 league finalists Kinglake.

Pride Cup organiser Jason Ball said the event began three years ago after his campaign calling on the AFL to address homophobia in sport.

“I called on the AFL to consider having a pride round, in the same way they’d had Indigenous rounds and women’s rounds,” he told the Star Observer.

“But the AFL wasn’t ready for that so Yarra Glen showed the initiative and decided they would show them how it’s done.

“The idea came from my coach, because my team wanted to support me after hearing about my struggles coming to terms with my sexuality.

“They wanted to make a statement that sport can be inclusive and to educate the rest of the community on the impact of homophobia to try and change the culture.”

Ball said a lot has changed in the three years since the first local Pride Cup was held.

For example, the AFL announced last year it would hold a Pride Match during its 2016 premiership season between the St Kilda Saints and the Sydney Swans.

Prior to that, a pre-season pride match was held in Sydney between the Swans and Fremantle Dockers.

“We’re very proud that Pride Cup has been an inspiration to the AFL to take it to this national level,” Ball said.

The football ground for upcoming Pride Cup will feature rainbow colours at the 50m line in a show of support for LGBTI inclusion.

There will also be a range of football and netball games throughout the day as part of the AFL Yarra Ranges league.

Ball said despite the increased visibility and awareness around homophobia in sport, events like Pride Cup were still important.

“The statistics show how much still needs to change in terms of sporting environments and the LGBTI community,” he said.

“We see high rates of both verbal and physical homophobia in sport and as a result of that we see a lot of self-exclusion in terms of LGBTI people participating in sport and feeling they have to stay in the closet.

“This comes at a cost their mental wellbeing… it’s about creating a happier and healthier community, and sport is a great thing for people’s mental health.”

Pride Cup recently won a VicHealth award for promoting health through sport.

Both the Yarra Glen and Kinglake teams received diversity and inclusion training in the lead-up to the event by Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria.

Ball said he hoped to expand this training across the state.

“We have worked closely with Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria to deliver education this year,” he said.

“Now we’re looking to develop a model that can be scaled across the state when it comes to LGBTI inclusion training.

“We’re hoping it might be of interest to the AFL, Netball Australia, and the Victorian Government.”

The third annual Pride Cup will take place at the Yarra Glen Recreation Reserve in Yarra Glen on Saturday, April 16. Click here for details

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