The news this week that the AFL have included sexual orientation in its anti-vilification procedures, and is to incorporate ongoing training to boot homophobia out of the code, has had an enthusiastic response not only locally but overseas as well.
Both the Victorian Human Rights Commission and the Federal Human Rights Commission have applauded the move. Respected overseas human rights advocates have also praised the initative as forward thinking and excellent sports administration.
The change in policy has largely been driven by advocates from the Gay & Lesbian Community pointing out that research from Latrobe University shows 10% of men under 25 in this country will identify as not straight, and with some 350 of the 770 elite AFL players in this age group, simple math tells us that there are few dozen men here who are not willing to turn up to the Brownlow medal count with their boyfriends for fear of the ridicule they will face.
The real news here is not that the AFL have gone on the front foot, it makes perfect sense that they do, but that the peak sporting body in this country, the Australian Sports Commission hasn’t.
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For years now, the ASC has been ignoring research not only from respected researchers Dr. Carolyn Symonds and Dr. Lynne Hillier from Victoria and Latrobe Universities, but from its own internal Sports Ethics Unit.
Time and time again, people from within the ethics unit of the ASC have pointed out that there is no point handing out pots of money to the sporting codes, if the codes are not genuinely trying to implement their member protection policies to ensure everybody gets a fair go, and members are not systemically vilified and degraded on the basis of characteristics such as sexual orientation. In other words, the codes need to be audited on their member protection policies, to ensure the words match the music.
The resultant cost is horrendous, with our Same Sex Attracted Youth (SSAY) experiencing rates of depression and suicidal ideation some five times their straight mates, and in fact the same research tells us that these people nominate sporting clubs and sporting events as some of the most unsafe places. The result is a health problem that costs the community a motza, and is entirely preventable.
As it happens the ASC has a new CEO, Mr Matt Miller. A recent appointment by Sports Minister Kate Ellis, Mr. Miller has lost no time re-assuring the Australian sports community that despite the “challenges” that are facing the sporting community, presumably because of the economic downturn, the ASC are committed to “enriching the lives of all Australians through sport”.
Well, I’ve got news for Mr Miller.
Unless the ASC starts having some meaningful and realistic dialogue with the GLBTI community, no amount of half baked member protection policies or spandex driven photo opportunities involving the Minister at velodromes or swimming pools is going to improve the lot of our SSAY one iota.
We are now well past the time that our sports administrators only look after people who are male, white and straight.
Rob Mitchell is a member of the Victorian Sport Ministerial Steering Committee, Governance & Inclusion Project. He writes regularly on sport, inclusion and mental health.