The Sydney Swans and Hawthorn Hawks may play the first ‘gay pride’ AFL game next year as part of a wider move to improve its reputation on inclusion.

Fairfax Media reports that Round 23, held at ANZ Stadium around September, may be used to promote sexual diversity in the code.

It was reported that AFL management were also considering further steps, such as considering an offer to march in next year’s Pride March in Victoria.

First-year players will also be taught about homophobic abuse which follows the AFL’s decision to air anti-homophobia commercials at its preliminary finals in September.

Earlier this year, AFL player Jason Akermanis garnered online criticism for responding to the story about openly gay AFL player Jason Ball with “Who cares?”.

Akermanis deleted his Twitter account after a social media backlash.

A former Players’ Association manager said in July that the AFL had “dropped” its previous anti-homophobia campaign after a controversial newspaper article in 2010 by Akermanis who effectively told gay players not to come out.

AFL management and AFL teams are yet to confirm the gay pride round will go ahead.

Ball, a Yarra Glen player, said a pride game would be fantastic.

“A pride game would be a really important step forward in creating a more welcoming environment for footballers and supporters who might be gay,” he said.

He will be speaking with first year players in January at the draftee induction camp about homophobic vilification.

“It was particularly tough as a footballer because it’s a very blokey culture and I didn’t know of anyone who was gay and who had played football at a grassroots level, let alone the AFL,” he said.

“There were absolutely no role models to look up to.

“I thought I’d be bullied or excluded because of my sexuality, but when my team-mates found out it was a huge surprise that they were not only fine about it, but really supportive.

“It was the most liberating feeling to know that they knew, that it wasn’t an issue to them, and that for the first time in this environment I could be myself.”

In September, 27,000 people signed up to an online petition started by openly gay Ball on Change.org.

His petition called on the AFL to screen the ‘No To Homophobia’ commercials at the grand finals held at the MCG, and implement a pride round in 2013.

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