Sport AFL Pride Games are an important part of creating change but ‘more needs to be done’

Pride Games are an important part of creating change but ‘more needs to be done’

AFL pride match
The AFL's second annual pride match will see sides play in rainbow jumpers and socks. Photo: AAP
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Sydney and St Kilda will again battle it out in the AFL’s Pride Match this weekend as it continues to help shift attitudes towards the LGBTIQ community.

The fixture – first launched last year – will see sides play in rainbow-themed jumpers and socks, while goal umpires will wave rainbow flags at the SCG on Saturday evening.

The match is designed to increase awareness among non-LGBTIQ attendees of the highly damaging impact discrimination can have.

Erik Denison, lead researcher of Monash University’s inclusion project, said while the initiative was commendable, far more needed to be done.

“Pride matches like the AFL’s are really valuable, strong messages,” he told The New Daily.

“It sends a powerful message to the public that homophobia will not be tolerated in society.

“The evidence shows it takes many approaches to address prejudice to create change and Pride Games are a critically important part of that along with enforcement of rules banning homophobia as well as other things.

“To create change more will need to be done but the Pride Games are an important part of this. They send a very strong social cue that homophobia is no longer normal,” he said.

Denison, who worked on the first international study into homophobia in sport, said more needed to be done since the implementation of the Pride Match.

And he believes that LGBTIQ people still don’t feel safe at – or participating in – sporting events.

“The statistics speak for themselves,” he said, referencing the Out on the Fields study in 2015, which found 75 per cent of Australians believe an openly gay person would not be safe as a spectator at a sporting event.

“People are not safe or not feeling safe in sport … this speaks volumes for the position we are in.

AFL pride match
Out on the Fields research in 2015. Photo: Supplied

“It’s so important to change the public’s perspective and create a safe environment for people to want to participate in and not have to hide from.”

According to a recent VicHealth and LaTrobe University survey, LGBTIQ people still have misgivings about attending AFL matches.

The study, published on Wednesday, found 58 per cent of LGBTIQ people did not feel AFL games were welcoming places, while 47 per cent said AFL games were not safe places.

However, in stark contrast, about 90 per cent of LGBTIQ people at last year’s Pride Game said they found it safe and inclusive.

St Kilda CEO Matt Finnis said this week the club wants to promote a safe environment for LGBTIQ communities.

“We are committed to creating an environment at AFL matches where the LGBTIQ community feel safe in attending, free to be themselves and ultimately feel a sense of belonging,” Mr Finnis said.

“The Pride Game was born out of similar initiatives at community football level and is ultimately designed to influence a change of attitudes and behaviours within the sporting environment, with an emphasis on fostering inclusion.

“Through the Pride Game and other initiatives, we are striving to tackle homophobia and transphobia, and other barriers that prohibit members of the LGBTIQ community feeling welcome in the sporting environment.”

Denison hopes more clubs follow St Kilda’s lead, and would like to see other sports, and organisations plan similar occasions.

“It’s not just a sporting issue, but a society-wide issue,” he said.

“We need more proactive measures to deal with homophobia and make change. The AFL can help create this change.”