It’s time to do something about homophobia in sport

Simon Cumming

In case you’ve been living under a rock, last month Alan Jones said something offensive in a speech at a private function.  Social media went nuts and sponsors started pulling their cash. It was hardly surprising that Jones said something distasteful, but it was disturbing to watch his sponsors freak out.

Telstra said “We won’t be recommitting our sponsorship of [the program]; we take these things seriously.”  Virgin Australia flew away with their money.   Harvey Norman gerrymandered their advertising budget.  Mcdonalds took their sponsorship to go, while Big W and Coles checked-out.

A cynical person might point out that that when the public controversy of the Jones affair died down and the bright gaze of the spotlight faded, most of the brands (and their sponsorship money) snuck back onto the show.  That cynical person wouldn’t be surprised – after all we’ve seen this patten often enough with Kyle Sandilands.  But I digress.

Let’s recap: because a man who made a name for himself saying offensive things on-air said something offensive off-air all of these companies worried about what it meant for their brands.  Each of them claims to have a strong commitment to “diversity and tolerance”, yet each of them continue to fund hatred and bigotry lurking behind the shiny facade of the AFL.

What is one to think when a sophisticated marketing machine like the AFL takes advantage of a young idealist like Jason Ball?  Here is a man who wanted kids to know that it’s ok to be gay.  He asked an organisation he loves, and has served for most of his life, to show some ads against homophobia at the grand final.

What Demetriou actually did was to show them as people were making their way to their seats before the preliminary finals.  If you watch the interviews with Demetriou, you can see the grudging way he thinks of homophobia in sport.

The AFL have made all the right PR noises, but have done very little to address their culture of entrenched machismo.  Demetriou is an old master of claiming credit, on behalf of the AFL, for things that other organisations do, while keeping the AFL’s efforts to a bare minimum.

Mercedes Benz demanded the car they supplied back from Jones, so why don’t the likes of Toyota do their part to drive homophobia out of the AFL?  Why can’t OPSM see their way clear to do the same? Surely Radiant doesn’t want to be part of a white-wash.

Could it be that all the commitments to a fair go are nothing more than window-dressing and tokenism?  Perhaps encouraging the full and open participation of everyone, regardless of gender or sexuality simply isn’t good PR.

All Ball wants for young gay kids is a level playing field – all the AFL sponsors want is your eyes to see their branding. If the AFL is going to keep its place as the premier sport in the country, it needs all of us, including their sponsors, to tell the AFL hierarchy that 1 in 4 gay kids killing themselves is a big problem.  It’s time for the AFL to realise that the only reason their gay players stay in the closet is because the AFL’s culture shoves them back in.

The AFL’s sponsors pay a lot of money for the lustre of elite sport to rub off on them.  What they’re getting for free is casual homophobia.

Policies are cheap; it’s time for the AFL to take action.

About the author

James Newburrie is a cyber-security specialist, the man who organised a marriage equality demo outside Mt Isa MP Bob Katters office, and runs the Facebook Equal Marriage page 32001names. Never without his unrelenting sense of logic or his trusty iPad he tweets as @Difficultnerd