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Saints take Pride to Etihad

AAP logoAAP 8/08/2016 By Ben McKay

One of the last refuges of institutional homophobia takes a giant step into the 21st century on Saturday night with the inaugural AFL Pride Game.

St Kilda's AFL clash with Sydney will feature rainbow-coloured footballs, 50m arcs and umpire flags in an attempt to win over sexually diverse fans.

It's a brave new world for the AFL - given the closest it's come to a rainbow-themed game would be when early-era Fremantle in their purple, green and red guernseys hosted the brown and gold-clad Hawthorn.

Studies show there's work to be done.

The largest research piece into homophobia in sport, the Out on the Fields report released in 2015, paints a frightening picture for lesbian, gay and bisexual sport participants and fans.

More than half of respondents believe adult sport is "not safe" for sexually diverse people and eight in every 10 respondents have seen or felt homophobia in sport.

It's why St Kilda chief executive Matt Finnis wants the Pride Game to be embraced, and not just tolerated, by the industry.

Tolerance suggests an acceptance, and perhaps a reluctant one.

Pride means to celebrate.

"When you apply the pride label, you're saying it's a celebration," he told AAP.

"That's important because pride is the opposite of shame.

"No one should ever feel ashamed to come to the footy and hold their partner's hand, or feel uncomfortable because of homophobic language."

AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan said the league was proud to partner in such an important initiative with the two clubs.

"People are born how they're born, that's just a fact, and there are some in the community who still might not accept that," he said.

"If we can play a role with St Kilda and Sydney in calling out that fact and that everyone should be able to be who they want to be.

"If we can do that through a football game and have the conversation then let's have it."

The Pride Game is an adaptation of the grassroots Pride Cup championed by Yarra Glen football club and player Jason Ball.

Finnis says AFL players have driven the translation to AFL level.

"To our younger supporters and players, with an average age in the young 20s, sexual diversity is far more normalised than the generations that have gone before them," he said.

"From Brock McLean and Dan Jackson being the first players to march at Pride with Jason Ball several years ago now ... to Sam Gilbert fronting this Pride Game this weekend.

"It would be fair to say players have been at the forefront."

Given hundreds of thousands of fans - either at Etihad Stadium or watching on the free-to-air broadcast - will see an AFL match in technicolour like never before, Finnis is expecting some backlash.

"It's difficult to say what everyone's reactions will be," he said.

"We just hope what we can do through this game is to open people's eyes to the importance of everyone being welcome."

The Pride Game follows in the footsteps of previous social inclusion campaigns, which has championed indigenous players and women in football.

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