The A-League has taken a huge swipe at the NRL and NBL, saying the competition learned from their rivals’ mistakes as they launched the league’s first-ever pride round on Wednesday.
Both the women’s and men’s A-Leagues will take part in the round to coincide with the Sydney Mardi Gras and World Pride, which will see millions of people in and supporting the gay community converge on the harbour city later this month.
The showpiece of the round, which will take place from February 24-26, will be a men’s and women’s double header between Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United, a side which features the openly gay Josh Cavallo.
But this isn’t just about wearing a rainbow jersey – far from it.
(L-R) Kayla Morrison, Isabel Hodgson and Josh Brillante help launch the A-League’s first-ever pride round at AAMI Park in front of a big TOGETHER sign
Australian Professional Leagues (APL) CEO Danny Townsend said it is a ‘considered’ decision that’s about more than just ticking a box and igniting a storm of controversy, like the Manly Sea Eagles and Cairns Taipans did when players refused to wear rainbow jerseys.
Townsend said it was about improving the inclusivity of football, and ensuring it is a safe space for the gay community.
Every A-League club has undergone 24 training sessions in the past four months to educate both staff and players about issues affecting the LGBTQI+ community and how to promote inclusivity in sport.
Also, $1 from every ticket sold from the round will go towards Pride Cup, an organisation promoting LGBTQI+ inclusion and diversity in sport, among a range of other initiatives.
Melbourne Victory players Kayla Morrison and Josh Brillante with the Pride Cup trophy the club will be playing for against Adelaide United
There won’t be any ‘Manly Seven’ dominating the headlines in Australian football as unlike the NRL side, the A-Leagues have spent 18 months getting the concept right.
‘We didn’t just dive into it without consultation. Equally, learning from some of the other codes that may not have executed [pride rounds] in the way they would have hoped, and we felt that education was a key pillar of our program,’ he told the ABC.
‘The LGBTQI community is such an important part of the fabric of our game, particularly the women’s game.
‘We want this to be part of our annual calendar; it’s not just over and done with, ticking the box and moving on.
‘It’s certainly a commitment we’re making over the long-term: we want it to grow in importance in our calendar and we’ll continue to work on the education programs that we’ve got in place and build on those, because the job is certainly not done.’
Adelaide United star Isabel Hodgson models the club’s rainbow jersey ahead of the launch of the pride round on Thursday
It was a brutal swipe at the rainbow jersey debacle at Manly last year, and the Taipans refusing to wear a tiny rainbow logo on their jumpers in the NBL’s recent pride round.
Taipans players decided they wouldn’t wear the rainbow kit as a ‘protection of our brothers that are being set up to be vilified’ – though that seems to miss the point that the gay community has spent centuries being vilified to the point of skyrocketing suicide rates.
It also comes just two months after Melbourne United centre Isaac Humphries became the first openly gay active player in NBL history in an emotional speech to his teammates.
Cairns Taipan’s players refused to wear this small rainbow logo from apparel manufacturer Champion for the NBL’s pride round
‘It is a truth about myself that I have wanted to deny for a long time, but now I feel comfortable in telling you all. That truth, is that I am gay,’ he said in the courageous video.
‘I have been through extremely dark times during this journey, but I have been through so much growth and I am now happy with who I am.
‘I believe it is definitely time to make a change and set an example to the next generation that they can be anything they want while still being true to themselves.’
Openly gay Adelaide United star Josh Cavallo, who said in his coming out video he was previously ‘ashamed’ of his sexuality, is one of the many reasons a pride round is so important
Cavallo modelling Adelaide United’s gay pride jersey last year
Fortunately for Cavallo, the A-League appears to be making real strides in ensuring the gay community feels safe and included.
In an emotional and widely-praised video during 2021, Cavallo said he was done with feeling ashamed about his sexuality and the exhaustion of trying to live a ‘double-life’.
Adelaide United, for their part, have staged a number of pride games, but now, it’s league-wide – much to Cavallo’s delight.
‘The diversity of the community that comes [to Pride Games], it’s just really lovely to see,’ he said.
‘It’s hard for me to take it all in on match day… but when I watched it back and to see all the atmosphere to see all the photos and stuff. It was a significant day for not only myself, but everyone you know that finds that they didn’t feel like they fit in in life.’
The openly gay Cavallo said being able to play in a pride game made him feel like he finally belonged
In addition to the education programs the APL run for all clubs, the league has included things like bystander intervention training – essentially, if you see or hear something homophobic, say something.
Security staff also receive special training on identifying homophobic abuse at games, while there is also an anonymous hotline where gay fans that don’t feel safe can report abuse.
There’s even new technology being launch during the pride round to monitor and filter out homophobic abuse on social media.
Pride Cup CEO James Lolicato worked very closely with the APL to ensure the league’s first pride round did not go the way of the Manly Seven.
Pride Cup CEO James Lolicato said no organisation in Australia had ever worked as closely with a pride organisation like the A-Leagues have
He praised the A-Leagues for the way they have gone about promoting inclusion, and highlighted exactly why the round was so important.
‘Seventy-five per cent of LGBTI+ people believe an openly gay spectator would not be very safe attending a sporting event. We want that statistic to change and ensure all LGBTI+ people have access to a safe and inclusive sporting environment.
‘We have been working closely with the A-Leagues and the PFA in a consultation and education process that began over 18 months ago.
‘We have so far delivered education sessions for every male playing group, APL staff and club CEOs, and will have delivered education sessions for all women’s playing groups by the Pride Celebration weekend.
‘No elite sporting league has ever worked this closely with an LGBTI+ mental health and wellbeing organisation before, nor with as much ambition as the A-Leagues. Together we are building the kind of long-term cultural and institutional change that goes beyond wearing rainbows,’ said a proud Lolicato.
When ‘Manly Seven’ member Josh Aloiai recently referred to homosexuality as a ‘lifestyle choice’, Matildas and Western United star Chloe Logarzo told Daily Mail Australia said it was ‘horrifically offensive’.
Let’s be clear, there is a proven biological basis for sexuality. Gay people don’t choose to be gay for the sake of it.
Chloe Logarzo marched in the 2022 Mardi Gras at the SCG on behalf of Football Australia and the A-Leagues. She says it is so important gay people know they are ‘accepted and loved’
Logarzo knows all too well how important pride initiatives can be.
‘I grew up not knowing anyone who was gay, literally not knowing a single soul, even though clearly they existed. I didn’t have an avenue to express my true self and I felt like I was on my own,’ she told Daily Mail Australia last year.
‘I don’t want to share an advocate in a way that I’m pushing it on people. I just live my life without lying to people about it, because I don’t want to hide who I really am.
‘If you’re out there and you’re feeling lonely, just know that you’re accepted and you’re loved. There are people out there who want you to be loved, to feel safe and supported,’ said Logarzo.
Behavioural scientist and pride advocate Erik Denison reiterated that point, highlighting the importance of the league’s initiative.
Seven Manly players, including Josh Aloiai, refused to wear this rainbow jersey. Aloiai later said he believed being gay was a ‘lifestyle choice’, not the biological basis science accepts behind sexuality
‘The A-League seems to be taking a much better approach than we’ve seen in other sports, in that there is a strong focus on encouraging local football clubs to host pride games and raising money to support local clubs to host the events,’ he said.
‘This is something that we haven’t seen in other sports and it’s very important because we urgently need to stop the constant use of homophobic language in children’s sport, because this behaviour is harmful to all children.’
LGBTIQ+ Australia’s 2021 report into mental health and suicide prevention found young people aged 16-27 were five times more likely to attempt suicide than straight people.
This is far more important than a rainbow jersey – there are lives at stake.
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk