Footballer Jason Ball has encouraged gay AFL players to be open about their sexuality. Photo: Mal Fairclough
AFL chief Andrew Demetriou has reiterated his commitment to eradicating homophobia in a meeting with other major sporting codes on discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The meeting came after Mr Demetriou said the AFL was ready to embrace their first openly gay player, after American NBA player Jason Collins became the first active American sportsman to announce he was gay, in 2013.
Mr Demetriou said Collins’ was a landmark moment and backed any AFL player who wanted to ‘‘come out’’ publicly.
"It’s a strong step forward for acceptance," he said at the time.
"I would hope that any Australian sportsman or woman, and particularly an AFL player, would feel equally comfortable and we would strongly support them, as would the wider football public".
Sydney Swans player Mike Pyke, who also attended the launch of the anti-homophobia program, told radio station 3AW that Australia was behind the times by not legalising same-sex marriage.
‘‘A lot of the world has embraced gay marriage and I think it’s about time we did too,’’ he said.
‘‘If the sporting community gets on board with this, and is willing to drive change, I think that will permeate through to the community in general.’’
Victorian footballer Jason Ball – who first revealed he was gay in an interview with Sunday Age in September 2012 when playing as a senior for Yarra Glenn – has previously said that if he had been aware of a footballer who identified as homosexual when he was younger, it would have made a huge difference to him.
After coming out to his teammates in 2012, Ball started the campaign ‘Say No to Homophobia’, which called on the AFL to screen ads promoting equality during the grand final and asked for a commitment to a pride round for the 2013 season, the latter ultimately unsuccessful.
However, the petition - which received more than 27,000 signatures - was responsible for anti-homophobia ads running on the big screen at prime-time fixtures around Australia.
In a revealing and personal address at the AFL Respect and Responsibility Program, in January, Ball said the positive reaction from his teammates had helped him enormously.
“They were really willing to get behind this cause," he said.
Collingwood president Eddie McGuire has also admitted to sharing a "wink and a nod" with gay AFL players, in an interview with gay magazine DNA in 2010.
McGuire said he had known gay AFL players and acknowledged their secret.
"Surely there have been players who are gay," he told DNA.
McGuire said he’d be happy to provide a platform for any gay player to come out to the wider football community.
"I wouldn’t do it for the sake of a story but if they wanted to go forward and do something I would be in a good position to offer them a haven to express themselves."
A man claiming to be the ex-partner of an AFL player has blamed their relationship breakdown on the "paranoia and the fear of harassment that would follow" if his partner had come out as gay, he told radio station ABC 774 on Wednesday.
"The issue of homophobia has been a very painful experience for me and for him, ’’he said.
A text message read out on air from listener Martin read; "as long as the AFL will insist on using the term ‘WAGs’, how can we expect the footy players to introduce their male partners".
with Jessica Wright