Rainbow Report Talking Minority Footy


Pic: Womens Elite Game @ Jolimont, by Flying Cloud

The gay community is getting ever closer to some degree of inclusion with the AFL ‘family’. It sounds very warm and cosy, doesn’t it? But so far there’s a huge mismatch between LGBTI community expectations and what the AFL is prepared to deliver.

To recap: ‘No To Homophobia’ ads were played on the screens while the crowd was assembling for a preliminary Grand Final. The request was for them to be played during the Grand Final itself.

Out-gay footballing poster-boy Jason Ball was invited to address the induction camp for new draftees. But that turned out to be as one of a panel of four who had a total of 30 minutes between them to speak about “what football means to me.”

And there is talk of a Pride Match between Hawthorn and Sydney in Sydney next season.

These have been described by AFL supporters as ‘huge wins’, whereas to many in the gay community, they seem somewhat grudging gestures. Be nice to them, comes the word, or they might take their balls and go home. It seems the AFL is playing not footy, but hardball. In this, the AFL has ‘form’.

Back in June 2008 the Victorian Country Foootball League (which is under the control of the AFL) settled an action at the Victorian Civil & Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) by promising to formulate and put into action a comprehensive set of anti-discrimination policies, procedures and training around sexual orientation. More than four years later we’re still waiting: the case returns to VCAT for an enforcement order shortly.

Discussions were already in train for a Pride Round in May 2010, until Jason Akermanis let fly with his opinion that gay players should stay in the closet. The AFL promptly dumped the Pride Round into the ‘too hard’ basket. Rob Mitchell, former member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee for Sport, was one of those involved in those negotiations, and he joins me tonight.

All of which set me to thinking. Are we doing something wrong here, or is this kind of grudging and superficial response par for the course with the AFL? How have other ‘minorities’ fared? So The Rainbow Report this week looks at the experiences of women and indigenous players (btw I always find it a little strange when women are referred to as a minority, when they are in fact more than half the population).

Did you know that there is a Victorian Women’s Football League?  Starting twenty-five years ago in 1981, the League now has four playing Divisions. Since 1993, there has been a 215% increase in the number of registered players and in the last three years, the League has doubled in size. There are nearly thirty teams in twenty-two clubs from all over metropolitan Melbourne, Ballarat, Yarra Valley and Geelong. VWFL spokesperson Leesa Catto joins us in the studio to tell us about the women’s game. Can the gay community learn from the women’s experience?

The AFL proudly points to the high rate of indigenous participation in the game. But is this appearance of ‘racism defeated’ only, ahem, skin deep?

Several commentators, including aboriginal former Richmond player Michael Mitchell and senior Herald Sun sports journo Jon Anderson have pointed out that, while player participation is high, only five of the 1300 staff employed by AFL clubs are indigenous, with only one indigenous executive at board level. Only two of the 150 coaches are indigenous. Plus, Professor Heather Mitchell of RMIT uncovered a persistent underpayment of Aboriginal players, when compared to other players of equal performance and ability.

To look at the indigenous experience, we’re joined by Chris Hickey, Professor and Associate Dean for Research in The Faculty of Arts and Education at Deakin University. He has a strong research interest in the ways young males negotiate their identities as members of peer groups within sport, physical education and popular culture. In 2010 he published The struggle for the body, mind and soul of Indigenous footballers, in which he argued that the AFL peristently racially stereotypes indigenous players.

As always, the show airs 7-8pm Thursday evening on Joy 94.9 Melbourne. Click on the link to listen online anywhere in the world via the web, or to download the FREE smartphone app. Any comments, questions during the show, email or SMS 0427 JOY 949.

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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)