St Kilda and Sydney to play AFL's first gay pride game
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St Kilda and Sydney to play AFL's first gay pride game

St Kilda and Sydney will play the AFL's first pride match in round 21 next season as the football community takes an historic stance for equality.

The Saints lobbied league bosses for the fixture and have been given the go-ahead for a prime-time Saturday night home game on August 13 at Etihad Stadium to celebrate diversity and take a stance against homophobia.

St Kilda lobbied for a pride game and have been given the go-ahead for a themed fixture against Sydney in round 21. Pictured are St Kilda footballer Sam Gilbert, CEO Matt Finnis and coach Alan Richardson.

St Kilda lobbied for a pride game and have been given the go-ahead for a themed fixture against Sydney in round 21. Pictured are St Kilda footballer Sam Gilbert, CEO Matt Finnis and coach Alan Richardson.Credit:Pat Scala

Chief executive Matt Finnis said the match was inspired by country footballer Jason Ball, who was the first gay player at any level of the game to come out, and the Pride Cup he and his Yarra Glen teammates have held for the past two years.

In the games, 50 metre lines were painted rainbow colours and players and coaches were educated on the impact of homophobia and how they could make clubs more inclusive for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) supporters, players and officials.

"This game is unashamedly inspired by the work of local football clubs such as Yarra Glen and we hope that our game can be similarly the inspiration for further community leagues following suit," Finnis said.

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"Our club is intent on not just being a place where everyone is welcome but also sending a strong message that sport is a place where people should feel no anxiety on the basis of their sexuality."

Sydney Swans chief executive Andrew Ireland said the club was excited to be involved in a celebration of culture, inclusion and diversity.

"The annual Marngrook match to kick off the newly named Sir Doug Nicholls Round will once again be a terrific community event while playing in the first pride match against St Kilda is a great initiative and something we're proud to be part of."

St Kilda were heavily involved in Yarra Glen's Pride Cup, sending a senior staff member to all planning meetings, while Finnis spoke at a pre-match lunch hosted by the AFL, Saints players led a half-time Auskick clinic, and coach Alan Richardson addressed a training session for local coaches on the effects of homophobia.

It followed a presentation Ball gave to St Kilda last year about the mental toll it took to hide his sexuality from his teammates, which Richardson said had a profound effect on him and the players.

"The unfortunate reality is that research shows that LGBTI people don't always feel welcome in sport," Finnis said. "Research also shows higher levels of anxiety, mental illness and suicide rates particularly amongst younger people and that's something which we should all be motivated to counter. For us this is just one small thing we think we can do to help turn that around."

Jason Ball with the Pride Cup.

Jason Ball with the Pride Cup.Credit:Dean Arcuri

Finnis said the details of the match had not yet been finalised but he planned to officially launch the Pride game during Melbourne's Midsumma Festival in January, which celebrates the LGBTI community.

His vision is for broadcaster Channel 7 to air pre-game and half-time educational videos, with people who have been affected by homophobia in sport sharing their stories.

The match will also aim to raise money for charities who support same-sex attracted and gender diverse young people.

Victoria's first Gender and Sexuality Commissioner Rowena Allen will chair an advisory committee for the game.

Jason Ball, who is now a Greens candidate in the federal seat of Higgins, said the match would be an incredibly powerful next step in the push to make sport more inclusive, and in the fight against homophobia.

"This is the beginning of a new era of growth and diversity for the AFL. We have seen them take the lead in reaching out to women and multicultural communities, and reaching out to the LGBTI community is the next logical step in taking leadership on inclusion," he said.

"I'm so proud that the work we did in Yarra Glen with the Pride Cup is now being replicated on the national stage"

This week the Sydney Swans launched the Rainbow Swans as the club's official LGBTI supporters group.

Sydney and Fremantle played a pride game in the 2015 pre-season tournament which was seen as a test run by the AFL for a prime time fixture in the home and away season.