Sport unites and connects people like no other.
On International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT), Capital Football is celebrating LGBTQIA+ people, and raising awareness for the work still needing to be done to combat discrimination.
Nationwide, 80% of participants have witnessed or experienced homophobia in their chosen sport, while 87% of gay men and 75% of lesbians are still not out about their sexuality.
Boomerangs FS player Jason O’Dwyer said over time, he has definitely seen improvement when it comes to inclusion and acceptance.
“Growing up I never saw a realistic pathway for a gay soccer player being accepted at an elite level,” the 32-year-old said.
“That is very different now. There are a handful of our current and former elite level players out there like Andy Brennan, Thomas Hitzlsperger, Thomas Beattie, Robbie Rogers and Colin Martin showing what is possible. Hopefully the start of many more to come.
“In my early years in the Capital Football Premier League I kept things to myself and a tight knit group of friends. Eventually I got comfortable enough to share with some teammates.”
O’Dwyer then took a few years off, before returning to play futsal with Boomerangs FS in the F-League and in the Premier League with Gungahlin United.
“In that time acceptance had improved in leaps and bounds and I haven’t had any issues being an out player,” O’Dwyer said.
“The coaches were phenomenal with using inclusive language when mentioning loved ones to the group as a whole and that made a big difference to feeling accepted in the team as you are.
“It was extremely important to set the tone for the culture at the club. Senior players also have been on the front foot with calling out any off-hand comments, and players are quick to apologise once they take a second to reflect on what has been said without thinking.”
At ANUWFC, the club says diversity is their strength, as it enables them to discover and tap into the unique contribution of each player.
“Leading by example is key. We always try to walk the walk by making sure in all our interactions with the football community that people feel included, valued and have their identity respected,” a club spokesperson said.
“The commitment of leading by example can manifest in several ways, for example by calling out discriminatory behaviour.
“We also made structural changes by appointing a player wellbeing officer in the club; whose job is to make sure all players feel welcomed and supported in the club, including gender diverse members, coaches and volunteers.
“The wellbeing of our players is always paramount and we want every person in the club, be they a player, a coach or a supporter to feel valued, understood and that they can bring their best to the field, in a safe, considerate, thoughtful environment, free from prejudice.”
Today is all about celebrating how the sporting community has come, but also recognising that there is always room for improvement.
“I think most people just don’t think about what they are saying until they know somebody who it affects directly,” O’Dwyer said.
“It is up to clubs to define the culture for their players and what is acceptable amongst their supporters. I hope it’s not too long before all members of the LGBTQIA+ community feel safe and accepted within the football community.”
If clubs would like to be a member of Pride in Sport, visit their website.