The AFL made no bones about where it stood on the same-sex marriage debate yesterday, erecting a giant ‘YES’ sign outside their Docklands headquarters in Melbourne.
Although the sign has since been removed with speculation that the AFL was forced to capitulate to critics, AFL boss, Gillon McLachlan maintains that the physical statement was only ever meant to be temporary, though the AFL’s stance toward SSM is anything but.
The AFL’s action yesterday, followed the decision of other sporting codes including the NRL, Australian Rugby Union, FFA and Cricket Australia who have all spoken out in recent weeks as supporters of marriage equality. McLachlan maintained the AFL had a responsibility to make its advocacy of equality clear, and show support to the LGBTQ community during this time.
“We are committed to equality and diversity and we support the rights of all Australians to live, work and play free from discrimination,” he said in a statement.
The AFL is committed to equality & diversity, & we support the rights of all Australians to live, work & play free from discrimination. pic.twitter.com/XUoAuEcwzJ
— AFL (@AFL) September 20, 2017
In a further interview with Fox Footy, McLachlan reiterated that the AFL was required to show leadership on this matter.
“I think that we are a leader (in the community), whether people like that or not, and this is an issue that means a lot to many of our players and many of my employees and a lot of people in the community,” he said.
But the AFL’s bold move, has got many knickers in a twist, with some claiming footy should stick to pies, beers and short shorts and steer clear of all things politics.
Premiership coach Mick Malthouse, opposed the action, saying the AFL had ‘no right’ to put forth their position.
“The AFL will only polarise people and really has no right to be involved in the political world of marriage equality,” he said.
And, indeed the ‘political world’ hardly refrained from weighing in on the debate either, with Liberal senator and vocal no campaigner Eric Abetz saying he felt disappointed that the AFL was “insisting on pushing their political correctness agenda” without regard to the consequences.
“There was a time where footy was footy and you could go to the football without having to be of a religious political persuasion. This embrace of a political bandwagon will alienate many of its supporters” he said.
But what about the thousands of supporters, and of course players, who have been alienated over the years for being gay? Because the AFL, like other sporting codes in Australia, has a pretty sordid history when it comes to this issue.
Research from the 2015 ‘Out on the Fields Study’ for example, showed that nine out of ten young people felt they could not be honest about their sexuality, fearing discrimination from coaches and officials, while 80 percent of respondents said they had experienced or witnessed homophobia in sport.
Alarmingly, 75 percent of respondents also claimed that openly gay or bisexual people would not be safe as spectators at Australian sporting events.
Wonder if Senator Abetz has any thoughts on that?
Just today, five prominent Australian mental healthcare groups launched an unprecedented campaign in favour of same sex marriage, claiming the change in law could prevent up to 3,000 high school suicide attempts each year.
It’s a deafening statistic and one we must pay heed to.
The AFL played its part yesterday. As a leading community body, they recognised the greater social impact they have and their responsibility to all Australians to set the right example.
In a period of tension and grief for many LGBTQ Australians, the AFL’s stance was a welcome reminder that no one walks alone.