Football can be a powerful force for change, not only on a large scale but at the individual level.
The game allows people to be themselves, express who they are, and be supported and surrounded by a group that can become like a family.
As part of Pantene’s sponsorship of Mardi Gras, research was undertaken to learn about the relationship between sport and the LGBTQI+ community.
Shockingly only 6% of the Australian LGBTQI+ community that was surveyed said they played a team sport. Despite the low numbers the research found the LGBTQI+ community recognised the benefits of playing a team sport.
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Almost 90% of all respondents said that sport can provide benefits to people in the community. Among the benefits of sport, those that ranked the highest were sport’s ability to widen people’s social circles, boost self-confidence, improve overall well-being, and inspire strength and confidence in LGBTQI+ youth.
However, the barriers to participation at this moment in time outweigh the potential benefits for many LGBTQI+ people.
For almost a third of respondents, things like fear of judgement and a lack of confidence were among the major reasons as to why people don’t play a team sport. A lack of LGBTQI+ role models for inspiration was also cited by 13% of respondents.
Two people who know all too well about the bullying, discrimination, and judgement are Westfield Matildas duo Tameka Yallop and Katrina Gorry. The pair, as part of Pantene’s Ribbons of Strength, have discussed the barriers they faced while playing the sport they loved.
“At school, I got bullied a little bit for being a soccer player.” Gorry said. The negative stereotypes associated with women’s football provided the ammunition for bullies and made life difficult.
“You couldn’t be yourself, which was really hard.”
Yallop, on the other hand, was exposed to the negative stereotypes and pejorative questioning about women’s football and sexuality.
“When I was a teenager, an agent made a statement that was the stereotype of women’s football is that there’s a lot of lesbians, but you’re not one of them. I wasn’t out at the time. So my immediate reaction was just, ‘oh, no, of course not’,” she said.
However, despite the bullying and the negative stereotypes, both Yallop and Gorry continued to pursue football. And it has taken them to the very highest level.
Both have found the support of their teams to be invaluable in life.
“It was important for me to have the support of my soccer team to be able to share my experience and talk to people about what I was feeling. Now being part of the Matildas, every single player knows that we have each other’s backs,” Gorry said.
“I’d encourage anyone who wants to join a sports team – no matter who you are, who you love or how old you are – to just put on your boots and get on the pitch. Once you find the strength, and the support from those around you, you’ll realise how much you can achieve.”
It’s a similar story for Yallop, who recently celebrated her wedding anniversary with her wife, Kirsty, and baby daughter Harley.
“Team football has always been an environment where I’ve felt safe because we were all playing football and it was just enjoyable. We didn’t have to worry about anything else.”
“My strength and determination comes from the people around me and once you’ve got a good support group, there’s really nothing holding you back.”
Playing a team sport has had such positive impact on the lives of Gorry, Yallop and countless other Westfield Matildas and football players from every level of the sport.
In order for other LGBTQI+ people to experience the benefits of team sport, more work must be done. Pantene’s research found that some of the actions that can be taken to promote and encourage the community to get involved in team sport included having more LGBTQI+ role models and more positive stories about those athletes in the media and online.
Clubs and organisations can also do more to show LGBTQI+ people that they are safe places for everyone. Public statements regarding anti-discrimination and inclusivity policies are just one way of showing the community that they are free to be themselves without fear of judgement within sporting clubs.
Through initiatives like the Pride edition of Pantene’s Ribbons of Strength, sport can begin to promote more LGBTQI+ role models with Yallop and Gorry donning the ribbons for the campaign.
This is just one of the ways in which the barriers to participation can be removed and the benefits of sports can be enjoyed by all.
“I don’t know what I’d do without being in a team sport. To have that support around you constantly and knowing that you have to tell us back through anything. I think the rainbow Ribbons of Strength is something that we can really wear proudly,” Gorry said.
“Pantene and Mardi Gras coming together is awesome. I think it really it emulates the Matildas. We’re a pretty big family. And I think it just really shows the support and the openness of what we want in today’s society,” Yallop concluded.