Winning with tolerance | Sydney lesbian club shows Australia it is bats for football

Attired in bat wings, wearing trademark rainbow socks and marching behind a batmobile, the Flying Bats Football Club celebrated its “I Love Soccer” theme in March at the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, one of the largest such parades worldwide. (theflyingbats.com)

Editor’s note: The following represents the first in a series of articles related to women’s soccer cultures in the 16 nations participating in the fifth FIFA Women’s World Cup. The tournament begins in China on Sept 10.

Sydney | The Flying Bats’ fifth-division representative in the North West Sydney Women’s Soccer Association suffered its worst outing of the season on Aug 5: a 0–6 loss to Thornleigh. The taste of humiliation still lingered the following morning for team member Danielle Warby, who called the experience both “embarrassing” and “painful.”

But the community liaison for the Flying Bats Women’s Football Club, the longest-running lesbian soccer club in Australia’s capital, offers more fundamental reasons for the club’s existence—more fundamental than its four teams compiling impressive win-loss records. Socially, the club injects fun into competitive sport and, according to Warby, provides a network, especially for younger players, that does not revolve solely around the drinking culture that is strong in Australia and among Sydney’s gay community.

Further, the club offers an ethos of acceptance that has come about from having been on the receiving end of discrimination following the Bats’ establishment in 1986. The preamble to the club’s Code of Conduct (Aug 06) sets out the principles of diversity, tolerance and inclusion that, as Warby tells us from Sydney during an interview Aug 6 (see podcast below), were acquired after joining a competitive association.

When we joined that competition there was quite a lot of confrontation and hard work to get accepted. A lot of the people didn’t have much interaction with gay people. It was kind of a shock I think to some people, especially the younger lads who were there supporting their girlfriends—we’d get a lot of lip from them. Over the years things have changed dramatically.

Thus, the Flying Bats uphold tenets of fair play and the “spirit of sportswomanship.” The club’s policy on tolerance offers a nuanced reading of the topic that might have come from a philosophy seminar or from an enlightened roundtable discussion on theological ethics:

Tolerance is of two kinds. The first is a begrudging acceptance of some diversity, so long as differences do not impinge too uncomfortably on daily routines, habits, or attitudes. The second is actively seeking and welcoming differences, enjoying comparisons, and using the energy associated with the resolution of tension and conflict creatively.

For such strength of organization the Flying Bats have gained international attention. They form part of a network of women’s and lesbian-identified clubs in the UK, Republic of Ireland, Ukraine, Germany and the United States. Players commit to weekly training and instruction, to Sunday matches over a five-month season and to pre-season grading by ability and fitness to determine placement in the appropriate division.

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