Friday night’s AFLW clash between the Western Bulldogs and Carlton isn’t just another home and away game, where coming away with four points is the sole focus.
It is so much more than that – a landmark occasion, one that could have a profound impact on the next generation of stars.
The two teams will be competing in the inaugural AFLW Pride game, which will celebrate inclusiveness, gender diversity, and welcoming all people, regardless of their sexual preference.
For proudly gay Carlton midfielder Sophie Li, it’s another opportunity for the competition to make an important statement – that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity should be kicked into Row Z.
“This is why AFLW is so good, it continues to be a pioneer and smash boundaries and push these things,” Li told The New Daily.
“It’s just so fantastic that we have this platform to be able to do that.
“It’s (the league) a movement, it’s breaking down barriers and smashing expectations in so many ways.
“It’s more than just sport, it encompasses and symbolises so much more.”
Li, 29, came out about three years ago and has been with her partner pretty much ever since.
She admitted that, although being certain her family and friends would support her, it was a “terrifying” experience nonetheless.
“I think in retrospect now, I’ve always known, but at the time it’s so difficult to discern and acknowledge things you’re thinking or feeling,” she said.
“Coming out to my family, I knew it was going to be fine, but at the same time it was terrifying.
“My family and friends were all so accepting, I’ve been very lucky – I know it’s not always like that. I haven’t had to deal with any of that negativity.
“To be able to now identify as a proud gay woman is something I’m really comfortable with.”
And Li has an important message for anyone in a similar position to the one she found herself in three years ago.
“My advice would be to acknowledge that it is scary and it is a lot to process, but there’s always someone to talk to and communicate with,” Li explained. “You don’t have to go through it alone.”
‘That’s the beauty of sport’
Friday’s historic match similarly excites Li’s teammate, Gabriella Pound.
The 23-year-old, who was born in Alice Springs but grew up in Albury, claimed initiatives such as the Pride game continue to drive societal change.
“That’s the beauty of sport … the Pride match … it’s creating a space on a national platform where the LGBTQI community can feel a real sense of inclusion and acceptance, not only in sport, but society,” Pound told The New Daily.
“I think that’s really important, that sport has that platform – it’s got the power to influence how society sees it and it normalises things.
“It kind of sings true to a lot of the girls. I’ve found that in the women’s footy community, you either are (LGBTQI) or you’re good mates with someone who identifies as LGBTQI.
“It’s accepted as totally normal and that’s what everyone should feel.”
The Bulldogs came up with the Pride game concept, believing that dedicating an AFLW match to gender diversity, inclusiveness and the feats of their players would be a great celebration.
Brooke Lochland, a gun onballer for the Dogs, couldn’t agree more.
Lochland told The New Daily: “It’s massive, not only for me, but for our club and the team.
“We’re so proud to be able to wear the rainbow colours. It means so much more to us than just a game.
“We do want to be role models for those young girls, we know they are watching us.
“We want them to be able to show what they can do, and really push that equality.”