The West Coast Eagles wearing their Pride singlets at training. (Photo: West Coast Eagles/Twitter)

The response to the West Coast Eagles' approach to AFLW Pride Round has been a vocal one from fans and LGBTQIA+ groups alike.

It was revealed last Sunday that West Coast would be the only club not wearing an AFLW Pride guernsey in 2022.

Since that moment, the backlash has barely ceased. Eagles and AFLW fans alike hit out at the club for the decision, prompting the club to affirm it was giving the guernsey the due respect it needed.

“Our intention for specially designed jumpers is to make sure it has enough space and time for us to be able to promote, educate and inform,” general manager of community and game development Richard O’Connell told The West Australian last week.

“Our ambition is to do one each year rather than put two in at the same time.

“We’re very comfortable with the fact we’re taking a very patient approach to introducing new playing kit during our early years.

“We’re not going to rush that process because we want the introduction of a playing guernsey to be important to the club’s history and for when you look back in time. We want to do it properly and respectfully and that will take some time to do.”

But this still didn’t leave fans satisfied with the response.

“We have more than enough resources to do an Indigenous and Pride jumper,” an Eagles-supporting Reddit user wrote.

Others, including WA politicians, made their thoughts known on Twitter.

But the response only worsened after comments made by Eagles coach Michael Prior picked up attention on social media.

The coach was questioned about the playing group’s response to not wearing a Pride guernsey, saying:

“I’ve got a simple view. That’s not my role. I talk about footy, not what we’re wearing.

“I think we’ve done the pride stuff to death to be honest. I want to talk about footy, not the jumper.”

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This prompted an apology in a statement from the Eagles and Prior about the comments made.

“To further clarify comments I made in an interview with The West Australian, during my conversation with the journalist, I stated that as the West Coast Eagles AFLW coach I was keen to talk about football and the massive challenge our group has ahead of them against the Adelaide Crows tomorrow,” Prior’s statement read.

“Our football club, the players and I are fully supportive of Pride Round and the LGBTQIA+ community.

“The West Coast Eagles pride ourselves on being an inclusive club where everyone is welcome and we know how important this is to our players, staff, members and supporters.

“I sincerely apologise to everyone who was offended by the report in The West Australian on Friday, and the players, coaches, staff and myself look forward to participating in Pride Round this weekend. 

“We have recognised and participated in Pride Round this week by wearing a unique training singlet, rainbow socks, media pieces, and we will also have on-ground recognition on match day.”

The singlets too, came under criticism.

President of the Perth Hornets, an LGBTQIA+ inclusive Aussie rules club, Ian Odlum spoke to The Inner Sanctum about the Eagles’ decision.

“The best way to describe [my reaction] would be disappointment… it’s a missed opportunity,” Odlum said.

“Them being the only club to do that just makes them stand out in a really negative light. I appreciate that they’re doing so much more behind the scenes, that their players understand why they haven’t rushed to get a guernsey for Pride Round.

“I can appreciate that they’ve prioritised an Indigenous jumper over a Pride jumper, but why couldn’t it be both?”

The Hornets are one of the biggest LGBTQIA+ inclusive clubs in the state, and work with other clubs to grow and support the community.

Since 2018. they’ve aimed to give people and players a place to be themselves in a supportive and inclusive environment.

They do fundraisers to raise money for community groups, outdoor cinema nights, sausage sizzles and more to support the WA community as a whole.

But being in this environment for the past four years has highlighted the difference between the approach to inclusivity and Pride in men’s and women’s competitions.

“AFLW really made history last year by having a full Pride Round. There’s not really much LGBTQIA+ representation in male sport,” Odlum said.

“I think that’s just something that’s been embedded into men’s teams and people that identify as male.

“A lot of our players… we’ve had team bonding weekends away where we share stories. Some of our players have felt ostracised [at other clubs], or not feeling able to be themselves or come out in fear of being ostracised.

“I did a post on the Perth Hornets Instagram page saying ‘did you know that the AFL men’s has been around for 100 plus years, and their first Pride match between Sydney and St Kilda was in 2014’.

“AFLW’s been around since 2017, and they had their first Pride match two years later. They’ve now had a Pride Round after that. How have they been so much more progressive?

“It’s just that juxtaposition of who’s more progressive, and why? Why is there such a difference in AFLW and AFL men’s? We can make assumptions on why that may be, but there’s a clear difference.”

Other women’s competitions like the Suncorp Super Netball played a Pride Match for the first time in 2021, while the Australian Open celebrated Pride Day for the first time.

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