Now here’s a feel-good story from the fine world of sport!

The St Kilda Football Club has today launched the AFL‘s historic, first-ever Pride Game, which is set to celebrate and recognise Australian football’s LGBTQI fans, players, staff, and associates.

The Saints will dedicate their Round 21 clash against the Sydney Swans to the LGBTQI community, and hope to use the game as a platform to foster and develop improved pathways for LGBTQI people to both participate in, and work in the sport, with a view to eradicating homophobic behaviour completely from the game.

The Saints revealed they will be wearing jerseys with rainbow numbers on them in celebration of the occasion, as the club fronted media in a launch today at Melbourne’s Prince of Wales Hotel.

In addition, goal umpires will wave rainbow flags on the day, and the 50 metre arcs on the ground will be painted in rainbow colours. The Sydney Swans players will wear rainbow socks.

The AFL is heralding the game as the first of its kind in any professional full-time elite team sport in the world.

Jason Ball, the first male Australian footballer from any level to proudly open up his sexuality to the media, and the founder of the Community Pride Cup, stated that the game was a huge step forward to changing the attitudes of the traditionally “blokey” sport, and will serve as the start of a hugely necessary attitude shift that will ensure the game remains inclusive and welcoming of all players and officials.

“Growing up, the footy club was the one place I thought I’d never be accepted. Homophobic language was routinely used on the field and it left me scared to be myself.”

“Struggling in silence with my identity caused me so much heartache and pushed me to a very dark place. An event like this Pride Game would have made all the difference and given me confidence that I could belong.”

“I’ve seen the impact a Pride Game had in my local community; it has changed the culture of clubs and created a safer, more inclusive environment for all players and supporters. I am so proud to see it taken to the national stage and I have no doubt it will be a life-changing event for many within the AFL family.”

Meanwhile, Saints CEO Matt Finnis said that the game was created both as a response to the growth of the Pride Cup, and the LGBTQI presence in the club’s traditional St Kilda home.

“Sadly, we know from research that many in the LGBTIQ community do not feel safe at sporting events and do not feel they can truly be themselves at sporting clubs.”

“We want the LGBTIQ community to feel welcome and safe at AFL games and free to be themselves.”

The statistics behind the game are particularly damning: 87% of young gay Australians who play sport feel forced to hide their sexuality, either completely or partially. Meanwhile 57% of all participants believe that sporting clubs and games are not safe spaces for LGBTQI identifying people.

80% of all participants, and 82% of LGBTQI participants have witnessed homophobia on the field during sporting contests, and a further 78% of all participants believe that an openly LGBTQI person would not feel safe as a spectator at a sporting event.

Those are horrendous – HORRENDOUS – numbers.

But hopefully, through initiatives like this one, we can begin to address them. One step at a time.

The AFL’s inaugural Pride Game between St Kilda and Sydney takes place on Saturday night, August 13th at Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium.

Source: Saints.com.au.

Photo: St Kilda FC/Twitter.