Today is the International Day against Homophobia (IDAHO), one of the most important days for the LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual, Intersex) community.  IDAHO recognises the day when, on May 17 1990, the World Health Organisation stopped identifying homosexuality as a mental disorder.

2014 marks the third year that AFL players have thrown their support behind the day, through the creation of the social media campaign #Footy4IDAHO. The #Footy4IDAHO campaign encourages an anti-homophobic AFL community, with players, officials and supporters pledging to never use homophobic language in our game and stand up to those who do.

AFL players, through the AFL Players’ Association, implemented the campaign­­. Carlton’s Brock McLean and Richmond’s Daniel Jackson have been the main advocates from the beginning and the first two AFL players to publicly support the anti-homophobia movement.

In an article published on the AFL Players Association website, Brock McLean describes why it is important for AFL players to support the movement.

“It’s possible that given our position as AFL players within the community, we have the power to use our profiles to help initiate change.

“We are in a unique situation whereby we have the opportunity to use IDAHO as a vehicle to promote the importance and power of language, while also creating an inclusive environment,” McLean wrote.

The #Footy4IDAHO campaign is a step in the direction that Beyond Blue ambassador, Jason Ball, has been campaigning for since the 2012 AFL season. In 2012, Ball came out as the first openly gay Australian Rules footballer and campaigned to the AFL to end homophobia within the sport.

He appealed to the AFL to have anti-homophobia commercials shown on the big screen at the 2012 Grand Final, and was successful in getting those commercials shown at the Preliminary Finals. He also had discussions with the AFL to arrange a Pride Game during the 2013 season, which the AFL initially considered. However, the idea fell through and never eventuated.

The Yarra Valley Mountain District League held a Pride Match between Ball’s club Yarra Glen and Yarra Junction earlier this month, to celebrate sexual diversity and show inclusivity within AFL football. The AFL has since announced that they would be willing to hold a similar event at AFL level, if two teams nominated to play the game.

Through #Footy4IDAHO it is clear that many players, officials and supporters back the initiative and are enthusiastic to promote anti-homophobia within our game. Although, the players can only do so much.

It is up to the AFL to do more than simply take a positive stance regarding anti-homophobia and initiate change. It is easy to simply dip your toe into the water: it is a lot harder to take the plunge. The AFL needs to act as leaders, rather than followers in the movement.

We have seen how powerful the AFL’s involvement can be, when we look at the tough stance they have taken on racism and support they have shown for multiculturalism within the game. There is no reason why they can’t fully support the anti-homophobic cause and initiate a Pride Game, amongst other anti-homophobic initiatives such as education within clubs.

Ball has previously told Bound for Glory News that awareness amongst his teammates about homophobia has improved his football experience dramatically, with homophobic language now non-existent at his club. This highlights the importance of the campaign, and the importance of why the AFL should give its full support, to create a totally inclusive game.

Even though many players support the cause, there is a lot more work to be done, and the AFL must take the lead in ensuring homophobia within our game becomes a thing of the past.

To find out more about #Footy4IDAHO, click here.