The Red Army holding up banners with different flags on them reading 'Together, Love Always Wins'. (Photo: Adelaide United/Twitter)

On Friday the Australian Professional Leagues (APL) announced the continuation of its Pride Celebrations.

The Celebrations, which will take place on the weekend of March 8-10 in Australia and on March 30 in New Zealand across both competitions, signify the leagues ongoing commitment celebrating the LGBTQIA+ community.

This marks the second year of Pride Celebrations the A-Leagues have had, and the third consecutive year of a Pride event, after an Adelaide United double header in the 2021/22 season.

This season’s Pride Celebrations are perhaps the most important ones yet by the APL in the short history of the league having done so.

Around the world, and particularly in sport, there has been a rise of hatred and discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community that is continuing to do hurt and damage.

It is important that the league and the sport continues to welcome individuals from diverse backgrounds to truly show that football is a sport for all.

Football continues to grow in popularity at both a grassroots level and at a professional level.

A-League Men attendances continue to get back towards numbers from pre-COVID-19, bringing fans new and old alike to games.

A-League Women attendances have skyrocketed on the back of the Women’s World Cup.

All of these new attendees deserve to know that A-Leagues games can be a place where they are safe to be themselves and will not be subject to discrimination for who they are.

As a proud queer person who has been made to feel unsafe and unwelcome at A-Leagues games, has been subject to discriminatory slurs and the like, the first Pride games in Adelaide were a moment of catharsis.

The joy that was felt and the tears of happy emotional release were all positive.

The league has continued to grow on this year on year, with a number of clubs celebrating in their own way, which includes engaging community groups, displays at games, and some clubs will wear specific Pride kits.

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These Celebrations are not being done for the sake of a box-ticking exercise either.

The Celebrations are grounded in education, research, and training to ensure that they are being done the right way.

A way that is a genuine celebration of LGBTQIA+ people and all they can bring to the wonderful sport of football.

Over the last two-and-a-half-years, the APL has developed and delivered a series of initiatives, including a comprehensive training program for players, staff, executives and partners, and the roll out of GoBubble technology to help moderate online hate. 

In 2024, the A-Leagues are once again providing LGBTIQ+ inclusion training to all players and key stakeholders. The training content is being uniquely designed for players by players by partnering with the PFA (Professional Footballers Australia) and Pride Cup.

A-Leagues commissioner Nick Garcia talked about how the Celebrations are an example of how welcoming and inclusive football is a sport, while the Central Coast Mariners captain and PFA player representative Taren King said how excited she was for Pride Round.

“I’m really excited for Pride round this season. Last year we saw a number of clubs make a big effort to show their support for the LGBTQI+ community and I’m looking forward to seeing more clubs get around the initiative this season.

“I think it’s so important that both clubs and players use their platforms to show our fans that everyone has a place in our game and all individuals are accepted for who they are.”

In an exclusive interview with The Inner Sanctum last month, the Newcastle Jets Sarina Bolden talked about the excitement of being part of a league that has a Pride Celebration.

“Being a queer person, that’s cool to be represented in that way. I’ve been a part of a league where they’ve outwardly done that, which is really exciting.”

What it goes to show is that it is not just for the fans, but the players as well. They deserve to be able to celebrate and showcase who they are to continue to promote that message of inclusivity.

Ultimately, there will be a number of people who ask the same old boring question of why such an event is needed, and there is an easy answer to the question.

Because it is needed. 

“Every club, every player, and every fan can play a part in bringing pride to every pitch and learning to every locker room,” Pride Cup CEO Hayley Conway said.

“With just 6% of LGBTIQ+ young people feeling safe to play sports, Pride Cup initiatives are critical to making sure that everyone can play.”

LGBTQIA+ people deserve to be a part of sport just as much as anyone else, and that six per cent number is way too low.

Part of the role of top level sports, like the A-Leagues is with football, is to help drive the message from the top down. 

To show inclusiveness, to show that football can be a safe place, and that ultimately, football is for everyone.

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