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Flying the flag for LGBTI footballers

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  • LGBTI clubs in Australia bringing diversity to grassroots football
  • Two local Sydney clubs flourishing
  • Support provided by A-League club Sydney FC

Sport has long been an agent for change. Indeed, sport’s ability to help overcome barriers and bring understanding to diverse cultures and backgrounds is well recognised.

Four years ago, A-League club Sydney FC commenced annual matchday recognition of the LGBTI (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex) community seeking to promote inclusion and awareness. Similarly, there has been increasing recognition in other parts of the world.

For LGBTI communities around the world, the mere act of playing football can be met with challenges. Various grassroots football clubs around the world are providing a safe outlet for LGBTI community members, and at the same time promoting awareness and a message of inclusiveness to broader society.

In Sydney, the Flying Bats Women’s Soccer Club have been in operation for well over three decades.

“One of the primary aims in establishing the club was creating a safe space for lesbians to play football,” former club president and advocate for women’s sport Danielle Warby told FIFA.com.

“I think just by existing, it is an act and a statement. There are no whispers because we are just there, out and proud. We have rainbows on our uniform so you can’t miss us.

“Sport has always been a safe space for lesbians on the whole. We did run into problems with opposition occasionally in decades gone by, but on the whole, sport was always an OK space.

“When I joined the club [in 2002], we experienced very few issues on the field, because we had been around since 1985, and in fact our members were instrumental in setting up the local women’s association. Apparently though there was a lot of crap in the early days, mostly from parents or boyfriends.

“We have a gender and sex diversity policy, and we have had a lot of positive feedback about that. The reality is transgender, diverse folk are usually excluded from sport. We felt it was super important to be diverse and welcoming.”

Across town Sydney Rangers have a much shorter history but a similar back-story. The club played under its own banner for the first time last year, and already boasts five teams. The club has also competed in the FFA Cup.

“People join us for all sorts of reasons, and I think increasingly less so that they feel uncomfortable playing in their childhood teams,” said Sydney Rangers club president Mark Robinson. “Players look for an inclusive social environment, where they can have fun, have a healthy lifestyle and meet similar people to them. We are a gay inclusive club, and sexuality, age, background and skill levels are no barrier."

The club has received strong support from the local Canterbury District Soccer Football Association (CDSFA). Robinson reports relatively few instances of homophobia, suggesting that awareness and respect are rapidly growing commodities. Even then he describes his personal experiences as likely “a lazy choice of language."

“In the eight or so years I’ve been playing we’ve only seen a couple of more significant incidents of homophobic language. In both cases they were reported to our association, CDSFA, who punished the players and in one of the cases the guy came along a couple of weeks later with a case of beer to apologise in person, saying that it had been a poor choice of wording and that he was very sorry.

“We have advocates in our teams with the confidence to call it out for what it is in the match, and on many of the occasions the player and their team-mates are horrified when they realise what they’ve done and truly think about what they’re saying. Language is powerful and homophobic language of any kind is hurtful.”

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