‘I didn’t want to be gay’ — Ash Brazill opens up about the importance of Super Netball’s new Pride Matches

Ash Brazill is excited about this weekend of Super Netball.

In recent weeks, her Collingwood Magpies have managed to turn their season around, challenging the top three teams – the Queensland Firebirds, Melbourne Vixens and West Coast Fever – to jump from the bottom of the ladder back into the mix.

In Round 9, they’ll face the Firebirds for a second time in three weeks, with full belief that they can pull off another upset to prove themselves as genuine title contenders.

But beyond that, Brazill is excited about the bigger picture, with this weekend marking the next chapter in a new tradition between the two clubs.

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Last season, the Firebirds and Magpies held the very first Pride Match in Super Netball, and on Sunday, they’ll host the second of its kind in Hobart, Tasmania.

In 2021, it was a standalone fixture. Now in 2022, the Sunshine Coast Lightning and Fever will join them as leaders in this space.

As a gay netballer, married with two young kids, the significance of it feels obvious to Brazill.

“I was speaking with my Mum about this and how different the world is now,” she told the ABC.

“I didn’t know anyone that was gay, and I never saw anyone in the media that was gay, so I felt different, like a black sheep.

“For me, [the Pride Match] is a massive deal because I want to celebrate me and my family, I want my kids to feel comfortable and I want people to know netball is for everyone.

Ash Brazill’s mother Rose has always been her biggest supporter.(Instagram: Ash Brazill)

Most sport fans will already be aware that Brazill is a cross-code athlete, starring for Collingwood in the AFL Women’s competition too.

Although it feels like women’s footy is leaps and bounds ahead of netball when it comes to inclusion, Brazill thinks it was easier for the AFLW to embrace the LGBTIQA+ community due to the timing of its inception.

As she points out, the inaugural AFLW season was held in 2017, the same year same-sex marriage was legalised in Australia.

“I would say that AFLW has come into an era where love is love, and so, it was probably a lot easier for them to jump on that bandwagon,” she said.

“Everyone was open about it and wanting change – it was at a time where we were very vocal about pride, not just in sport, but in the community.

A woman wearing a black and white footy jumper who's carrying a child, raises her arm in celebration.
Ash Brazill holds her son Louis after an AFLW victory with the Pies.(Instagram: Ash Brazill)

However, Brazill does acknowledge that netball’s reputation for being a particularly girly sport has turned some of her fellow athletes away.

“I played lots of sport growing up – basketball, football – but as soon as I told people I played netball they’d be like ‘oh, that’s so girly, you’ve got to wear ribbons and your little dresses’.

“Until you go to a game live, some people don’t realise how physical it is and that these women are strong, confident athletes.

“I think we’re definitely changing the way people look at us, but I’d love to see a change to allow those that don’t feel comfortable wearing dresses to be able to wear shorts.

“Little changes like that, I’d love to see.”

The positive impact of Pride Matches

Another person who deeply understands the importance of this weekend in Super Netball, is Working It Out’s manager of learning Olivia Hogarth.

WIO is a Tasmanian gender, sexuality and intersex status support and education service, and through their state government funded project, Everyone Can Play, WIO provide training, resources and advice around LGBTIQA+ policies and inclusion practices for sporting bodies.

Firebirds vs Collingwood Tasmania
It was a packed house the last time Collingwood and the Firebirds played in Tassie.(Getty: Steve Bell)

Hogarth will be in attendance at the Collingwood and Firebirds game on Sunday as a guest of Netball Tasmania and told the ABC there’s plenty of work to be done in this space.

“It’s clear that action needs to be taken because whatever has been done in the past hasn’t really worked, like having policies or codes of conduct that exist in the background that perhaps aren’t implemented or acted on, with no real consequences for breaking them.”

By hosting a themed match with intentions to celebrate and welcome LGBTIQA+ people, Hogarth says Super Netball sends a powerful message to the rest of society about inclusion.

Stacey Francis-Bayman West Coast Fever Sunshine Coast Lightning
Fever defender Stacey Francis-Bayman is another one of the few openly gay athletes in the Super Netball league.(AAP: Richard Wainwright)

“It’s real visible support that people hang their hats on in terms of public opinion, so if those influential bodies are seen to be supporting our communities and recognising that they do experience levels of injustice and exclusion and discrimination, it has a huge impact.”

A critical part of that message is to highlight members of the LGBTIQA+ community already involved in the sport at the top level, so that there are direct links to representation.

“Sometimes stereotypes or perceptions build up – whether they’re accurate or not – and those reputations develop [to give the impression] that netball is a sport for straight cisgender women,” Hogarth said.

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“Having the visibility of strong athletes like Ash Brazill and the general allyship that a Pride Round represents, can really turn that around for people in those positions.”

A good starting point

Although Brazill is excited about the upcoming match and what it holds, she is adamant that it is only a small step and that the league should be embracing the concept for a fully fledged Pride Round.

“We’re wearing rainbow bibs and laces, but I’d love to see full rainbows dresses for example, and to see Super Netball and Netball Australia really get behind it to make a big stance.”

Reference-www.abc.net.au

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