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  • Writer's pictureCody Ojeda

The importance of the Pride Cup, and how the APL is ensuring its success

This weekend will see the first league-wide Pride Round in A-Leagues history. A collaboration with the Pride Cup organisation has historic rivals Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United contest for the trophy in the men's and women's competitions at AAMI Park. Meanwhile, all other games will also celebrate the initiative.

Several clubs have advertised custom printing or jerseys for the upcoming weekend. More have updated their social media profile logos to include the LGBTQIA+ community colours.

Canberra United striker Michelle Heyman on what this round means to her. (Twitter: @CanberraUnited)

While these may be small gestures, something simple can still have the power to be very impactful. The representation of this community in football and the wider sporting community, particularly in men’s sports, is still minimal. It's why holding these events and getting them right is crucial.

However, the idea of a Pride Round or any form of pride celebration has been a contentious topic in Australian sports over the last 12 months. The 'Manly 7' saga has been the most notable. Seven Manly Sea Eagles players refused to sport a Manly Pride jersey for an NRL match against the Sydney Roosters. Meanwhile, the Cairns Taipans backed out of wearing a Pride jersey during the NBL Pride Round, fearing backlash from those who do not support the initiative.

However, the Australian Professional Leagues (APL) has been working for 18 months to educate players and staff across all A-League Men’s and Women’s squads. The aim is to build foundations to ensure the coming weekend can build a foundation for members of the LGBTQIA+ community to feel welcome in attending and participating in football.

The APL has faced scrutiny for some time regarding a lack of action in implementing such an initiative, whilst other sporting codes looked to be taking that step forward. But the announcement on the 18th of February outlining the timeline of work done in collaboration with the Pride Cup organisation showed they were working behind the scenes the whole time and also going above and beyond to create a long-standing legacy.

A timeline of the key events between Pride Cup and the A-Leagues leading into this weekend. (Instagram: @pridecup)

The APL has undoubtedly made mistakes in recent times. However, the work put into this round deserves high praise.

To avoid a repeat of the unfortunate instances seen with the Sea Eagles and Taipans, the initiative across the weekend will be done on an opt-in basis to ensure no player feels they are being forced into a situation they deem uncomfortable. In this case, though, it seems very few, if any, players are unwilling to take part.

The importance of this initiative should not be underestimated. Statistics provided by Pride Cup show that only 6% of LGBTQIA+ people are involved in team sports. Meanwhile, 80% of Australians have witnessed homophobia in sports.

Sport is a vital part of Australian culture and a microcosm of the country itself, so in contrast to its participation numbers, it could also hold the power to play a role in changing the way this community is treated within the broader society.

Representation is critical in changing the negative views of a group of people. Providing a platform for this community to be visible will hopefully pave the way for their increased participation in sports.

Josh Cavallo, the only active male gay footballer in the A-League Men, shared what the pride game represents. (Twitter: @JoshuaCavallo)

There's also the impact it can have on the entire football community, not just those actively involved in the game. Fans, particularly young fans, that see players support this initiative will be encouraged to re-evaluate their beliefs on the topic, if need be, and be more open to inclusivity.

There will always be those vehemently against it and not afraid to show their discontent actively. But growing support for the LGBTQIA+ community will further reduce the impact of negative voices.

As previously stated, sport is a microcosm of society, so changing views through sports can translate to altering opinions within the broader community. That's the indirect impact of what a successful Pride Cup and Pride Round from the APL can bring and further proves its importance.

Many comments across social media reacting to the Pride Round initiatives can tell you all you need to know about why these initiatives mean so much to the LGBTQIA+ community. Several comments, among the positive reactions, stated their dissatisfaction. The most recycled argument is users claiming that "politics should be kept out of sport."

This point is valid in reality. Sports should not be used as a platform for political agendas. However, the failure here is that this initiative is continually viewed as a political statement. Instead, it's a human rights and discriminatory issue.

Melbourne Victory players Natalie Tathem (left) and Ben Folami (right) launching the Pride Cup and the club's pride kit with DJ Havana Brown (centre). (Leo James)

This group wants to enjoy what Australian football offers without fear of prejudice. While slowly being weeded out of society, discriminatory and offensive language is still occurring within football. With those on the field stepping up to eliminate this issue, those in the stand will hopefully be influenced to follow suit.

This process is a challenging one, and it could be years before we see the true impact of the diversity training clubs have undertaken. But the first step is always the most important, and while the APL took this behind the scenes 18 months ago, we will now see their work in full stride.

Adelaide United's Men's and Women's captains, Isabel Hodgson (left) and Craig Goodwin (right) unveil the special printing for Sunday's match against Melbourne Victory. (Adelaide United)

Hosting a Pride Round in a sporting competition can be meaningless if not done correctly. Recent history shows it can bring out discriminatory views if poorly executed.

Between partnering with the Pride Cup organisation, holding education programs for all players, staff, and executives of the 13 A-Leagues clubs, and allowing players to opt into the initiative should they feel comfortable, the APL has set the standard for how a sporting body should be implementing such an event.

Considering the potential impact this weekend can have, we should all fully support the A-Leagues Pride Round and Pride Cup initiatives.

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