Sports pride rounds in Australia have created a storm of controversy over the past year – and one expert says they may be doing more harm than good.
Seven Manly Sea Eagles players famously boycotted their club jersey last year due to religious beliefs, while NBL team Cairns Taipans scrapped plans to wear a small rainbow logo on their jerseys for the league’s inaugural pride round last month.
Behavioral scientist and pride advocate Erik Denison said leagues and clubs motivated only to wear a rainbow jersey to show their social progressiveness simply don’t get it.
Denison insists that these are real and effective changes in the way the LGBTQI+ community is treated.
(LR) Kayla Morrison, Isabel Hodgson and Josh Brillante help kick off the first round of A-League pride at AAMI Park in front of a large TOGETHER sign. But for a pride round to mean anything, a leading researcher says it needs to look at discriminatory behavior at its roots
Behavioral scientist and pride advocate Erik Denison says that when done wrong, pride laps can do more harm than good
“There’s nothing wrong with doing a pride game as long as it’s not done in a way that creates opportunities for players to opt out or for people to use it as leverage for their political campaigns against the gay community,” Dennison told ABC.
Denison, the lead author of the first international study on homophobia in sport, said pride rounds that use terms like “celebration” can actually do more harm than good.
“It’s not about celebrating anything, it’s about doing your job as a sport and making sure kids are safe to play your sport,” he said.
“We found that very religious athletes support Pride events, but only when you explain to them that these games are an effective way to stop behaviors that harm children.
“However, when we see them use the term ‘celebration’, that’s generally when we see a reaction from these religious athletes. It seems to fire them up. This is because these athletes feel that their religion prevents them from ‘celebrating’ or encouraging homosexuality.’
This was amply illustrated by the now infamous Manly debacle where seven players – Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau’atu, Tolutau Koula and Toafofoa Sipley – refused to wear the club’s shirt last year. their religious beliefs.
Seven Manly players, including Josh Aloiai, refused to wear that rainbow jersey. Aloiai later said he believed being gay was a “lifestyle choice”, not the biological basis accepted by science behind sexuality
It ignited a firestorm of controversy like no other.
Aloiai referred to homosexuality as a “lifestyle choice” as he said he and other boycotters could not “live like it or support it” – and remained adamant there was “no way” he would back down from his stance.
Another important example that confirms Denison’s point came just weeks ago.
A Cairns Taipans player reportedly didn’t want to wear a small rainbow logo in the recent NBL pride round.
Cairns Taipan players refuse to wear this little rainbow logo from apparel maker Champion for NBL Pride Round
He reportedly faced abuse on social media for the decision, so did the entire team decided they wouldn’t wear the rainbow kit as “protection of our brothers who are created to be vilified” – although this seems to overlook the fact that the gay community has spent centuries being vilified to the point where suicide rates skyrocket.
The AFL’s pride initiatives fared little better.
Sydney and St Kilda have been playing an annual pride game for seven years, with rainbow jerseys, socks and 50 lines for the game, as well as several initiatives promoting participation and improving safety for the gay community.
Lance Franklin in the Swans’ rainbow jersey last season. The club has also been awarded for its work in introducing a number of inclusion initiatives
Sydney Swans fans cheer during the club’s annual pride match against St Kilda last season
Gay AFLW superstar Erin Phillips models the Crows gay pride rainbow jersey. The league has had pride rounds for two seasons now
The Swans were even recognized at the 2018 Australian LGBTI Awards as the best ‘Community Initiative/Charity’ for their work.
The AFLW, which has a high percentage of gay players, also has a successful pride tour, with the league’s atmosphere impressive in its inclusiveness.
For Dennison, a rainbow jersey means nothing if homophobia still thrives in the locker room and in the crowd.
“You have to come down really hard and change the culture in sport. Education campaigns do nothing to change that behaviour,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald after the Australian Open’s pride initiatives.
“Officials need to come down hard and enforce the policy that bans this language.”
Enter the A-League.
Melbourne Victory players Kayla Morrison and Josh Brillante with the Pride Cup trophy which the club will compete for against Adelaide United as the showpiece for the A-League’s Pride Round
Both the women’s and men’s A-Leagues will take part in a pride tour to coincide with Sydney Mardi Gras and World Pride, which will see millions of people join and support the gay community converging on the harbor city later this year per month.
In his announcement to launch the round on Wednesday, CEO Danny Townsend took a look at how the NBL and NRL have handled their gay pride initiatives.
He insisted the league’s 18-month “scrutinizing” build-up to the Pride round – which runs from February 24-26 – gave them a good chance to effect meaningful change.
To ensure gay men like Adelaide United star Josh Cavallo, who said he felt “ashamed” of his sexuality in an emotional video released in 2021, should feel safe, important pride initiatives must accompany a rainbow jersey
“We (the A-League) didn’t just jump into it without consultation. Likewise, learning from some other codes that may not have been executed [pride rounds] in the way they would hope and we felt that education was a key pillar of our program,” he said.
“We want this to be part of our annual calendar. It’s not just done, check the box and move on.
“It’s definitely a commitment we’re making for the long term: we want it to become more prominent in our calendar, and we’ll continue to work on the training programs we’ve put in place and build on them, because the work is certainly not done.”
Australia’s 2021 LGBTIQ+ report on mental health and suicide prevention found 16-27 year olds were five times more likely to attempt suicide than straight people.