The ALSO Foundation, a struggling Melbourne GLBTI community organisation that has teetered on the brink of collapse in recent years, scored a big hit Tuesday with the launch of “No To Homophobia”, a series of three TV advertisements and a website endorsed by the AFL.

If you got your news from mainstream sources, you might be forgiven for thinking this was an AFL initiative, backed with thousands of dollars of AFL money. The Herald Sun said the AFL “declares war on homophobia to stamp out ugly slurs”. “In a letter pushing the initiative, Mr Demetriou said discrimination should not be tolerated and everybody had a responsibility to tackle negative attitudes and behaviour,” the paper reported.

The letter was provided in response to a request from the No To Homophobia Campaign, which suggested ways the AFL could support the campaign, including the provision of a written statement for the website, according to AFL corporate affairs manager James Tonkin.

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That statement was the AFL’s sole contribution. Despite the implications of the coverage on 3AW and in the Herald Sun, the AFL had no involvement in developing the campaign, provided not a cent to fund it, and doesn’t even have plans to air the advertisements during matches.

No AFL representative attended either the lunchtime launch with Mental Health Minister Mary Wooldridge, or the soiree later that day with Victorian Health Minister David Davis, both of which were teeming with the cream of Melbourne’s queerocracy.

Tonkin was at pains to point out that any exaggeration of the AFL’s contribution was not their fault. “At no time did the AFL overstate our involvement in the campaign — the Herald Sun‘s treatment of the story was based solely on a copy of the AFL statement of support provided to that newspaper by the campaign organisers,” he said.

When asked if the AFL would be supporting the campaign financially, he said the AFL hadn’t been asked, but would be “happy to consider what other practical steps we can take to help support the campaign”.

The AFL Players Association, which had been keen to tackle homophobia in the past despite AFL board obstruction, wasn’t involved either. When Rob Mitchell, of the Victorian Government Governance and Inclusion Project, called the group to ask if it was involved, it was the first that CEO Matt Finnis had heard of it.

The campaign was said to be worth $650,000, but closer examination reveals its true value is only about $200,000. About $400,000 in TV air time has been “donated” by TV stations under their Community Service Announcement obligations, along with $200,000 of “in-kind services” from local businesses and members of the community and a grant of $50,000 from the Victorian Department of Health. Sources indicate that the creator of the advertisements was paid $20,000, and about $1000 was spent on the website.

The AFL’s cashless endorsement, which was first sought mid-August, came after St Kilda player Stephen Milne copped a $3000 fine and was ordered to counselling earlier this month for calling Collingwood’s Harry O’Brien a “f-cking homo” during a game. O’Brien said of the incident: “The AFL is very clear on its policy and he breached it and he has to pay the price of that but from my point of view I wanted to keep it private. I didn’t make any formal complaint because the umpire was right next to him, I didn’t say anything at all.”

Numerous legends of the game slammed the decision to penalise Milne even that much.

A number of gay organisations called St Kilda’s Seaford base offering to help with Milne’s re-education — in return for the $3000. St Kilda’s media person apparently told one representative that Milne “would be counselled under the AFL Respect & Responsibility program, and also by two current gay players and a gay coach” from other clubs. The $3000 would stay in house.

The AFL often appears uncomfortable with GLBTI issues. The AFL participated in an outside broadcast at the MCG with community radio station Joy 94.9 on August 18. According to sources at the station, Sue Clark, who has carriage of the AFL Respect and Responsibility program, was adamant the show should focus on the “Diversity In Sport — Maintaining Respectful Relationships In Sport” initiative, not specifically on anti-homophobia. That program contains nothing specifically gay, unless you count one photograph, which includes a couple of members of the Collingwood gay supporters group, the Pink Magpies, on the website.

When asked if the AFL would be updating Respect & Responbility to tackle GLBTI issues more specifically, Tonkin said: “The AFL runs a number of education programs at both the elite and community level which focus on promoting respectful and healthy relationships, including issues related to s-xual identity.” He says the AFL amended the rules in 2009 to prohibit vilification on the basis of s-xual orientation, preference or identity in addition to race and gender.

Rob Mitchell has repeatedly attacked the AFL for the lack of progress on gay issues. “The nearer to the top you get, the less diverse the AFL gets — more white, more male, older,” he told Crikey. “The players and the players association are keen to take on homophobia in the sport, but the boards are not. Their actions are always half-arsed, with no sustained follow-through.”

He wasn’t surprised at the lack of AFL funding for this latest initiative: “It’s like a series of botched set changes in an amateur pantomime. And they’re only ever reactive, as on this occasion, never proactive.”

According to Jamie Gardiner, vice-president of Liberty Victoria, former member of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission and a spokesperson for the No To Homophobia campaign, “it will be up to the GLBTI community to keep up the pressure and make sure they follow through on their support”.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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