Anti-Gay Prejudice Still Rife in Male Team Sport, & Sport Still Failing To Tackle It

Daniel Jackson by Rachel Hofton

It was good to hear that a group of AFL Players Association members will once again be speaking out against homophobia in sport again this year, as part of what used to be called the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) on May 17th

(Actually, it’s now called the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersex & Transphobia – IDAHOBIT.)

Jobe Watson, Scott Pendlebury, Luke Ball, Andrew Swallow, Daniel Jackson, Brock McLean, Drew Petrie and Matt Spangher, I salute you for joining Jason Ball’s campaign to crack open the AFL.

Because it really does need cracking open from top to bottom, to let the pus drain out. The surface may look very gay/black/woman/etc friendly, but it’s a different story underneath.

Last week I was contacted by a lifelong footy tragic, though from what he tells me, the game gives precious little back besides grief. He wrote:

I had homophobic insults thrown at me all day at a VFL game on the weekend. Nobody did a thing, even though there was security around, and it turns out the culprit is employed by the club! 

I asked him if he would let me write up his story, but he was too afraid.

Sadly, I feel this will not change a thing. It really does happen all the time and I don’t think singling myself out will change anything. Besides, it wasn’t just me, this guy was going our players as well, and unfortunately I eventually bit back and had some less than complimentary things to say about him as well, so I’m not really an innocent party either. Sorry to be a wimp, but I usually just move away from the culprit and accept that people aren’t quite as accepting as they should be yet.

I doubt I could manage such restraint.

Even at the highest level, racism still lurks, but at least senior people are willing to confront that unequivocally.. Andrew Demetriou leapt into action to demand fans dob in racists  in their ranks and get them banned from the game after Majak Daw copped a spray from the fans..

“There is no place for any discrimination in not just our game, but in society,” Demetriou told reporters.

“And the sooner people wake up to themselves, that it will be their fellow supporters that turn on them, the better. And that is what’s happening.”

“And if people want to continue to go down the track of discriminating against people, abusing them, or vilifying them, then there will be no place for them in the game.

“They won’t come to games, they won’t be tolerated. They may as well just chuck in their membership and follow something else.”

 It’s well overdue for him to say the same about anti-gay abuse,too, but I guess what with racism and performance enhancing drugs, he has enough on his plate. We shouldn’t expect him to walk and chew gum at the same time, so to speak.

Which is a pity, because that, more than anything else, seems to be why the AFL has no out players. It’s the same problem in British soccer.

Chris Basiurski, chairman of the Gay Football Supporters’ Network, told the Observer that he knew of players whose sexuality was known within the game.

He said: ‘We have anecdotal evidence that players are out within their clubs and don’t have a problem. We are trying to create an atmosphere for people to come out safely, but at the moment there is a big barrier.

‘The danger is what happens when a player comes out and gets loads of support and attention, but then start playing badly.

‘The worry is that fans will start getting on their backs and they may lose the confidence of their manager and it could be connected to their sexuality.’

Encouragement by the highest level official in the game for fans to stop chanting anti-gay abuse and to eject those who do from the grounds would be a very good start. Maybe some info spots on those screens around the grounds at every game with Andrew telling the fans to  “Dob in a bigot today!”

Sport – especially male team sport – has a major role to play in removing prejudice from society and especially from the schools where it is learned, often far better than some of the classroom topics. However sport is ducking the issue. Sport would rather talk about racism, drugs, women . . . . anything, rather than the great gay men in our great game.

If role models were able to express themselves without the threat of either abuse or a ceiling on their careers, it would help a lot. Alas, for now a handful of players speaking up in support – when their clubs let them – will have to do.

For a game that’s supposed to foster courage and manliness, it’s not doing too good a job.

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)