More AFL Tokenism

The response of the AFL to the need for root and branch cultural change in the game continues to be hugely disappointing.

There was much trumpeting of the fact that out gay amateur footballer Jason Ball would be invited to address the new intake of draftees at their induction camp.

Like the rest of the AFLs responses to Jason, it always looked like a one off token gesture, but just how tokenistic wasn’t clear until it actually happened. The AFL Players Association blog has the details.

2.00PM  – Panel discussion “What football means to me”.

The panel features local footballer and the founder of anti-homophobia campaign Jason Ball, decorated footballer and Victorian Women’s Football League President, Debbie Lee, Auskick manager and father Paul Gleeson and North Melbourne footballer Majak Daw.

The session highlighted that as AFL Players they have to be aware of the impact of their actions on others and the importance of going to work in an inclusive environment that values diversity.

2.30 – Keynote speaker

And there’s Jason, squeezed onto a panel of four, with thirty minutes to get their points across. And people wonder why we complain that the AFLs responses to Jason look more like PR management than a serious attempt to change the root and branch culture of the game.

Expressing my disappointment on Facebook and Twitter thus:

So @JasonBall88 got 7.5 whole mins w @AFL draftees sharing platform 2-2.30pm w 3 others, wow that’s really made a diff

led to a barrage of ad hominen attacks on both platforms. One example will suffice. Ben Hart, who was the AFLPA’s PR manager for less than a year, before shifting to mental health charity headspace, tweeted

“getting in front of draftees in any capacity is huge. You wouldn’t know a win if it stood up in your soup. ” and

“you seem to have learnt the knack of bullying young gay men because theyre getting more attention than you”

This is not about me, or Jason, or any individual. He’s done his best going up against the biggest richest homophobe club in the country bar the Roman Catholic Church. It’s not Jason’s effort, but the AFLs response, which is pathetic.

This is about getting the AFL to accept the urgent responsibility to drive cultural change through the game, from top to bottom, starting today. And that means a helluva lot more than flashing up a couple of ads at one game at a time when most people aren’t watching the screens, or sitting a young gay footballer in front of a group of draftees for a few minutes, or mounting a one-time one-off special game in a city where AFL remains an also-ran sport. As I have said before.

This is about Andrew Demetriou standing before the TV cameras and announcing the AFL will invest $xm over the next x years to ensure that every level of the game is not just accepting but positively welcoming of sexual and gender diverse people. That training programs, policies and procedures will be put in place to make sure the change happens. That the AFL will appoint an expert group, half football and half gay community representatives, to drive the process.

This is about demonstrating – not just saying – with their words and their chequebook, that they will devote at least as much time, money and attention to tackling LGBTI inclusion as they do to tackling the inclusion of women or aborigines.

When we have openly LGBTI players, coaches, officials, board members and commissioners at every level of the game, alongside women, aborigines and other minorities, we will have gotten somewhere. Till then, token gestures just don’t cut it.

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)