In the lead up to the Big Bash League’s pride game this week, the same questions are being heard. Why do we still need to keep doing this? Isn’t inclusion just part of life now? Jodie Hawkins, the general manager of Sydney Sixers, who play Hobart Hurricanes on Thursday night, is glad it seems that way but is quick to highlight there are still many obstacles to overcome.
“That’s what we want to get to,” she says. “But we know full well that we’re not there yet. Part of our role is educating our fans about the issues that the community face. We want to be part of continuing to drive that change.”
In the wake of Australian cricketers Marcus Stoinis and James Pattinson being cited for using homophobic slurs on the field this summer, the timing is particularly pertinent. Hawkins sees the Pride Party match at the SCG and the conversations that come out of it as an opportunity for cultural change.
“What it [the pride match] allows us to do is educate our players,” she said. “We’re building a culture where they can see that while they might not have any nastiness behind it [homophobic language], what they don’t understand is the impact it does have on the community who find that really offensive.”
While Stoinis was fined $7,500 and apologised to Kane Richardson, who the comments were directed at, he escaped suspension and was widely celebrated for his record-breaking BBL innings of 147 not out last weekend. Richardson pointed out that the apology was not directed where it needed to be.
“To be honest, I didn’t need an apology for myself – he didn’t offend me,” he said. “It’s more what he said that offends so many people.”
Dr Ryan Storr, one of the co-founders of Proud 2 Play, an organisation that works to increase participation and engagement with sport in LGBT+ communities, has been working with the Sixers on their planning for the pride match. While he finds the continued use of homophobic language in sport disappointing, he is heartened by the fact that cricket is starting to call this behaviour out.
“Once upon a time, umpires probably didn’t say anything around vilification,” he says. “Whereas now it’s becoming a bit more common for them to actually speak out about it. Incidents like this suggest that there is still a lot of work to do, there is a homophobic culture within cricket. But I feel the sport in general is making progress and doing a lot more work than other sports in this area.”
Dr Storr believes the Sixers recognised the potential to reach an untapped market and have worked hard to create the environment for them to engage with the team.
“You need to reflect the community that you’re in,” he says. “Are they actually going to come to your matches? Or do you need to do some work to try and get them to come? Because a lot of the time LGBT+ people don’t feel that sport is welcoming or safe.
“You need to do some outreach work in order to try and get more people to…feel comfortable. And that’s why the homophobic sledging that happened is really sad, because if someone was going to come…and they see that, they’re not going to come [again]. I can’t describe the impact that it has. It’s not just a throwaway comment.”
Hawkins agrees, emphasising the importance of creating an ongoing culture of inclusion. “We want to ensure that when they [LGBT+ people] are coming to a match, and not just our pride match – all our matches – they feel included and safe,” she says.
“And that’s the biggest issue we have – that people don’t necessarily feel safe attending large scale sporting matches. We want them to come to a Sixers match and know that they are safe and they are welcome.”
Before putting the wheels in motion for the Pride Party game, Hawkins spoke the players about their understanding of LGBT+ inclusion, wanting to ensure the team were going to provide the support and celebration the community needs.
“They’ve been really good,” she says. “They live and breathe inclusion as much as we do. It’s really critical to making sure we can create the change we want to create because our players are our voice. If they’re not behind it, it makes it really difficult. But they’ve been excellent in taking on the messaging and making sure that inclusion is at the top of their values as well.”
Dr Storr believes it is this commitment to their values that will ensure the Sixers are able to create lasting cultural change.
“They have this small team of staff and they’ve achieved so much,” he says. “And ultimately it’s because there’s the dedication to doing this work because they see it as the right thing to do. And it’s important for the longevity of cricket.”