Footballer Jason Ball has launched a crowdfunding campaign to support the rollout of rainbow-themed Pride Cups to 150 AFL clubs around the country.
“As a kid growing up in country Victoria, I loved playing footy more than anything else. But, as I got older, the football club also felt like the one place that I would never be accepted for who I was,” he said.
“With homophobic slurs considered part of the game, it took me more than 10 years to finally come out to my club.
“When I did, not only did my teammates stand by my side, but together, we created the Pride Cup.”
In 2012, Jason became the first male Australian rules football player at any level to publicly come out as gay.
Two years later, the inaugural Pride Cup was played between Yarra Glen and Yarra Junction football teams, with the support of the AFL and the aim of celebrating inclusion and diversity in sport.
Now the Pride Cup is supporting 11 annual games across Victoria and Ball said the group is fielding inquiries from dozens of interested clubs around Australia.
The group are crowdfunding to reach their goal of rolling out 150 annual games in the next three years, engaging 30,000 players, 150,000 fans and up to a million people through the media.
Ball said as players embrace the rainbow jumpers and communities support the games with their own colourful, inclusive messages, the impact of Pride Cup games goes beyond the footy field.
“As the heart of many regional towns, football clubs have the power to create ripple effects and transform attitudes within a community,” he said.
“We’ve launched a crowdfunder to help transform an annual home game at every football club in Australia into a celebration of diversity and inclusion, so that every supporter, official and player know they don’t have to choose between being themselves and the game that they love.”
Pride Cup co-founder and founder of advocacy group Proud2Play, James Lolicato, said the Pride Cup was an important step towards ending homophobic discrimination in sport.
“The best goal we can hope for this footy season is to help end homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in sporting clubs around the country,” he said.
I was honoured to share the stage last night with these two amazing young men. All three of us grew up in football loving families, and all three of us struggled at times to find acceptance and feel proud to be who we are. Last night's #PrideGame was a celebration of diversity, where the @afl, @sydneyswans and @stkildafc said loud and clear that LGBTI people are welcome in our great game. It's the human element that helps communicate why pride is important, and by sharing our stories I hope that there was a young kid out there who felt a little bit more comfortable in their own skin. No one should feel ashamed to be who they are. No one should feel like they have to choose between suicide or living a lie. If it can be OK to be gay in the world of footy, I promise it can be OK anywhere. 🏉🏳️🌈
St Kilda Football Club CEO Matt Finnis said the Pride Cup was a big inspiration behind the national AFL’s annual Pride Game fixture, which was first held in 2016.
“It’s no surprise to see the demand for these events continue to grow at the grassroots level and fantastic to see people from the community stepping up and pitching in to help expand it nationally,” he said.
Last Friday evening, the AFL Women’s League held its first pride game between the Carlton Blues and the Western Bulldogs in Melbourne.