Will Drug Scandal Derail AFL Anti-Homophobia Push?



Self-portrait – Rob Harding

What price tackling homophobia in footy now? Has the chance of progress soon vanished with the announcement of “the blackest day in sport”?

Gosh, the AFL have suddenly noticed that all those muscled-up players may not have got that way just by pumping iron. That those sudden inexplicable fights and breakouts may have had more to do with the ingestion of certain substances than simply the pressure of living in AFL-land. That this may have happened with the connivance of some of the officials in some clubs, supplied by shady figures with underworld connections. Of course, they had no idea till the cops turned up on the doorstep, Dear me, no! Shock! Horror!

They knew they had a problem, of course, but they didn’t take it very seriously. Yes, there was the odd incident, the occasional player coming spectacularly undone, but they thought they could muddle along with with their slack, offhand testing regime and their little slaps on the wrists for offenders – so as not to ‘tarnish the image of the game’.  I mean, worked great for Ben Cousins, didn’t it? What’s your problem?

This cosy little ‘leave it to us, we’ll deal with it, discreetly’ approach blew up in their faces when – WHAM – the cops turned up on the doorstep. And suddenly all the stops are being pulled out to tackle this urgent problem they had NO IDEA was right under their noses. Honest, officer. Yeah, right.

The AFL employs exactly the same style and attitude in dealing with gay players in the ranks, and possible homophobia in the clubs and in the stands. Relax, they say, we ‘have it covered’ with their vague and sloppy ‘diversity’ policy that no-one spends much time or thought on. To reassure us, they hand out the occasional token wrist-slap to the likes of Stephen Milne, but never examine and tackle the root problem.

And now, because of course a few drug-cheating clubs and players, a few possibly rigged matches, are WAAAY more important than the preventable depression, self harm and probable death of bullied and isolated LGBTI teens (not just in football) they could do so much to avert, they have an excuse to drop the anti-homophobia ball.

Make no mistake. it is an excuse, not a reason. It may be a damn good excuse, but to use it would be the cowards way out. If they showed half the guts, concern and willingness to tackle homophobia as they have displayed in the last few days in response to this ‘drugs’n’match-fixing’ malarkey, think what a difference they could make.

How unlike the approach of the German Bundesliga, which has set up a support group to help clubs and players deal with gay players coming out, even though none have done so yet.

Or the UK based international campaign Football V Homophobia, which runs an annual event month supported by major UK clubs, Arsenal, Aston Villa, Liverpool, Norwich City ,West Ham United, Ipswich Town, Exeter City, Gillingham, Sunderland and Crystal Palace.

Puts the AFL’s dithering over one Pride Match into context, doesn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong, I hate the drug cheats, the corrupt coaches and players, and the shady dope peddlers, the match fixing and the crooked gamblers. The AFL are to be commended for finally taking the problem seriously and moving heaven and earth, apparently, to deal with it. Well, this week, anyway.

But what really shits me is that this could push the anti-homophobia effort, to which the AFL is only reluctantly and lightly committed, back to the bottom of the to-do pile. All the hard work so many of us have put in over the last few years will be for nothing. We will have to begin again.

In my imagination I hear Andrew Demetriou saying, with a hint of releif in his voice, “Sorry, lads, but we’ve got MUCH more important things on our minds than hundreds if not thousands of sad, depressed and possibly suicidal young poofters and dykes in schools, on the streets, and in footy clubs.”

I desperately hope I am just imagining this. Because with respect, gentlemen. if you take that attitude, if you shelve the anti-homophobia work, then you have a seriously sick and twisted set of priorities.

I repeat, I hope I’m wrong about this. But I very much fear I’m right.

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)