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jasonbell“I’d like to tell you what it’s like being a gay footy player. I’ve experienced homophobia in Aussie Rules Football first hand – now it’s time to end it.”

So says 24-year-old Melbourne footballer Jason Bell, whose online petition to get the AFL to air an anti-homophobia ad on the big screen during the Grand Final games is gathering pace – picking up over 6,000 supporters since it launched at the weekend.

Ball, who plays in the Yarra Valley Mountain District Football League, tells The Age that homophobic slurs are commonplace during matches and training. “Whether it’s intentional or not, the reality is that the culture of the AFL is hostile to fans and players like me,” he says.

He felt he couldn’t come out to his team, since he didn’t know of any other gay footy players. But they eventually figured it out, and since then he’s had their understanding and support.

“It was my teammates who eventually told me they knew I was gay, and that it wasn’t an issue for them,” he explains. “I think I’m pretty lucky to have such a supportive group of players around me – especially in a regional town. It could have gone the other way – and it’s no wonder to me that there are no openly gay players in the AFL. I know how they feel.

“But I think the players are ready for change. The clubs are ready for change. The supporters are ready for change. We just need the AFL to lead and help shift the sporting culture so that players and fans like me can openly be who we are without fear.”

The AFL has gone to great lengths in combating racism in recent years, and has written a statement of support for the recent No to Homophobia video campaign – but Ball is now calling on the League to do more.

In his petition to the AFL, he writes: “I’m calling on you to air the No to Homophobia ads on the big screen during the Grand Final games to truly demonstrate your support for players and supporters who are gay. Committing to a Pride Round would also have a massive impact towards building a more inclusive culture in the sport.”

Below is the ad Ball would like shown at the games, and you can read and sign Jason Ball’s petition here.

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