Australia A-Leagues to stage first-ever Pride round in February

Australia's A-League Men and Women's competitions will stage their first-ever Pride round later this month, marking the first occasion in which Australian football's top flight has come together to recognise and promote inclusion for the LGBTQIA+ community.

Taking place across the weekend of Feb. 24 to 26 in Australia and in Wellington Phoenix's home men's and women's doubleheader on Mar. 4, league administrators the Australian Professional Leagues (APL) will stage the round in partnership with Pride Cup, a non-for-profit that challenges anti-gay and anti-trans attitudes within sporting clubs from grassroots to professional levels.

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$AUD 1 from every ticket sold across the round's fixtures will be donated to Pride Cup, funds earmarked to support the work that the organisation undertakes to stage pride events in community clubs at sporting clubs across Australia.

Pride Cup previously partnered with Adelaide United to stage a standalone Pride men's and women's doubleheader during the 2021-22 season after the Reds' Josh Cavallo became the then-only openly gay top-flight male footballer when he came out in October 2021.

"When you change sport, you change communities. And with the outpouring of support from last season's Pride Game, we're excited to partner with A-Leagues for a Pride Celebration in 2023," Pride Cup CEO James Lolicato said.

"75% of LGBTI+ people believe an openly gay spectator would not be very safe attending a sporting event. We want that statistic to change and ensure all LGBTI+ people have access to a safe and inclusive sporting environment."

Melbourne Victory and United had previously announced that they would be staging a Pride Cup women's and men's doubleheader on Feb. 26, a game that will now serve as the marquee fixture of the week.

"The diversity of the community that comes [to Pride Games], it's just really lovely to see," said Cavallo.

"It's hard for me to take it all in on match day... but when I watched it back and to see all the atmosphere to see all the photos and stuff. It was a significant day for not only myself, but everyone you know that finds that they didn't feel like they fit in in life."

In partnership with Pride Cup and player's union Professional Footballers Australia, the APL has conducted a series of educational workshops on LGBTI+ inclusion with players, coaches, staff and executives from each club across the A-Leagues in preparation for the round.

Training on providing a safe environment and identifying anti-gay behaviour and language has previously been conducted with staff at Melbourne's AAMI Park, the host of Victory and Adelaide's meeting, and will now be implemented nationally.

"The Pride movement is close to many fans' and players' hearts and we're extremely proud to be celebrating the diversity of our players and fans through a new Pride Celebration in 2023," said Professional Footballers Australia co-chief executive Kate Gill.

"We want to reduce discrimination, increase education and improve everyone's experience when playing our sport so they feel safe, included and welcome."

The A-Leagues Pride round will coincide with the WorldPride 2023 festival, which is being staged for the first time in Sydney this year, and the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, which will stage its ubiquitous parade on the Feb. 25. A-Leagues staff were part of a Football Australia contingent participating in last year's march.

"Whilst we're not at our end goal yet, we're proud of the strides we've made to make our sport more welcoming and inclusive for our fans, players and staff and wider communities," said APL CEO Danny Townsend.

"The Pride Celebration is grounded in education, training and an ambition for long-term impact. We're getting the foundations right to make positive change. This is certainly a long-term project, but we're committed to ensuring every person involved with our game feels safe and included,"

The A-Leagues' Pride round follows the Australian National Basketball Leagues' version last month, which despite its general success was overshadowed by the Cairns Taipans opting out of wearing jerseys that featured apparel sponsor Champion's small logo on the chest in rainbow colours.

In 2022, seven members of Australian Rugby League side Manly boycotted a fixture in which the side's jerseys incorporated a rainbow design.

Manly's players weren't consulted before that jersey's unveiling, and A-Leagues officials are hopeful that the educational work undertaken before Tuesday's official announcement will avoid a similar scenario.