The A-Leagues’ Pride Celebration is a force for change, making football accessible, inclusive and safe for LGBTI+ fans and players across the entire league.
This year’s celebration, held from February 24 – 26 in Australia and on March 4 in New Zealand, saw all men and women’s A-Leagues teams participating - signifying the code’s ongoing commitment to making football accessible and inclusive for all.
The marquee match of the Pride Celebration – the ‘Pride Cup’ – was a doubleheader between Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United men’s and women’s teams. The match, first played in 2022, kicked off the collaboration between the A-Leagues and Pride Cup 18 months ago, including wide-ranging programmes of diversity and inclusion across the league.
The Celebration featured rainbow corner flags, captain arm bands, guards of honour and some clubs partnering with local pride community groups. The dedicated Pride Bay in the stadium provided a safe place for LGBTI+ fans to enjoy the game, with stalls from LGBTI+ support services available nearby. As part of the Pride Celebration, $1 from every ticket sold was donated to Pride Cup’s community fund to support community clubs and their own pride events.
“We reached out to Pride Cup a couple of years ago because we want every person involved with our game – fan, player, coach, staff member – to feel safe and included in every part of the game,” said Danny Townsend, CEO of the A-Leagues.
“At the heart of this Celebration is education. We work closely with our stakeholders on a wide range of initiatives to ensure safety and inclusion at every level.
This includes a partnership with GoBubble who provide technology to protect our clubs, players and fans from online abuse, work with our venues to provide additional anti-discrimination training and information for staff, and education and training sessions delivered by our partners Pride Cup to every single APL staff member, club CEO and men’s and women’s players.”
Pride Cup CEO, James Lolicato, views these events as an opportunity to change culture within clubs.
“Only 6% of young LGBTI+ people participate in sport because they don't feel safe or welcome to. There are multiple barriers that work together but by far the biggest barrier is homophobic and transphobic language, even casual comments like ‘that’s gay’ signify to LGBTI+ people that they aren’t especially safe or welcome,” said Lolicato.
Education plays an important role in making this cultural change. Running a Pride Cup is an opt-in process that starts with an acknowledgement that there is room for improvement within clubs, and those who choose to participate are motivated to change. The judgement-free education sessions and events can reduce homophobic language in a club by up to 40%.
“The first step we can take is to change the way we speak to one another on and off the field and position the importance of language usage and behaviour in clubs.
“It’s important for a club to work together to determine what sort of environment they want to create and what identity they want to have in their community, social change can’t happen without people working together towards a shared goal,” said Lolicato.
Pride Cup works with clubs at the top and all the way down to grassroots level. Numerous community clubs across sports like basketball, cricket, Australian Rules, football, netball, roller derby, and tennis have been involved in their program. Clubs can apply through their website to receive a Pride Cup handbook, and from there clubs can register their event and request a 30- or 90-minute education session on inclusion for club members.
Lolicato continued, “We hope more young players grow up feeling like they belong in football and are free to express their authentic selves because they have never been made to feel excluded or unwelcome. This is only the beginning.”
Townsend noted that the A-Leagues is getting the foundations right to make positive change and help LGBTI+ people to feel included, accepted, and proud in sport.
“The A-Leagues have made progress over the past two seasons, but we have plenty of work still to do. Every person involved with our game - fan, player, coach, staff member - has the right to feel safe and included in every part of the game and so we will continue until this is realised.”
Learn more about the Pride Celebration at https://pridecup.org.au/ and A-Leagues launch Pride Celebration ‘grounded in education, training and ambition for long-term impact’
This article was authored by Play by the Rules, published 31st March 2023