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Team Sydney declares victory in fight against gay hate in sport

LGBT sports organization confident that homophobia in sport is ‘not really an issue’ in Australia
Team Sydney in action at the 2013 fair day as part of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

As professional sportspeople around the world tentatively begin to be open about their sexuality, there has been a lot of discussion in the media about how to create a safe environment for LGBT people in sport.

It seems that Australia may be leading the way. We spoke with Ian Wilby, president of LGBT sports organization Team Sydney, to find out more about their work and why they’re not focusing on homophobia in sport.

When was Team Sydney established?

We were first formed in about 1984, prior to the 1986 Gay Games in San Francisco.

We recently celebrated our 25th anniversary year with a big purple birthday cake leading our section of the 10,000-strong Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

While Team Sydney is essentially a gay and lesbian-oriented group, many of our clubs have both gay and straight members.  Some clubs choose to be for women or men only because that is how they feel most comfortable but, even so, there tends to be a gay-friendly straight element.

How many members do you have?

Gay sport is strong and healthy in Sydney.  Under the Team Sydney umbrella there are over 30 different clubs – some small, some large. Individual members are also welcome.

We estimate that each week there are about 1,750 people playing sport as part of Team Sydney clubs, and our wider work involves about 4,000 people.

The organization is governed by a board of directors and a sports council consisting of representatives of our members clubs.

What are the main things that Team Sydney delivers for its members?

We organize three main events each year as part of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras:

  • Our sports festival where clubs run participation matches inviting visitors to ‘have a go’ at their sport;
  • Our sports village during Mardi Gras’ fair day, where our clubs display their sport and attempt to recruit new members from the 10,000 visitors;
  • Our ‘United In Sport’ entry in the Mardi Gras’ parade – almost 700 strong in a parade of just under 10,000. Despite wet weather this year, the audience was estimated at about 350,000.

In addition there are other outreach and recruiting promotions that reach into local populations in suburban Sydney.

What are some of the challenges in running the organization?

There are two key challenges: Finding sufficient volunteers to fill the 12 seats on our board and getting funding each year to subsidize the costs associated with our activities.

What sort of outreach does Team Sydney undertake?

At the moment, relatively little. We approach sports clubs that come to our attention with offers of support. Plus we help annually with Parramatta Pride which is held in the western suburbs of Sydney.

At the moment our main areas of focus include:

  • Recruitment of clubs;
  • Recruitment of directors;
  • Raising funds; and
  • Networking within and without the gay community.

What role does the organization play in tackling homophobia in sport?

This is not really an issue in Australia.  Yes, there is always some, limited to the inevitable ‘rednecks’. 

Gay sport here is normally integrated with ‘mainstream’ sport through district competitions and the like. ‘Mainstream’ and professional clubs (such as the Waratahs Rugby Club) often participate in our promotional activities.

What are some of the key tournaments and events that Team Sydney members are training for?

Generally speaking, our sports year runs from February to November or December with a six to eight week break over Christmas and New Year. Our clubs are in almost continual training for competition within the regional and district competitions.

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