Tennis Australia’s National Inclusion & Diversity Coordinator, Irena Farinacci, invited Collaroy Tennis Club (CTC) Committee Member, Dave Keogh, to travel to Melbourne and attend a Breakfast Conference co-hosted by Tennis Australia and Ralph Lauren on AO Pride Day – 25th January 2024.
Irena wanted Dave to be part of a panel of guest speakers to talk about our Club’s philosophy in this area and to specifically present as a case study, the Pride events we’ve held at Collaroy. The conference was important because so many members of the LGBTQIA+ community still do not feel safe and included in sporting environments and Tennis Australia is committed to changing this narrative.
The conference was held at ‘The O’ – a function centre within Margaret Court Arena in the Melbourne Park precinct. Among the 100+ attendees were:
- Craig Tiley, CEO of Tennis Australia
- Kerry Tavrou, Tennis Australia’s Head of Inclusion & Diversity and of course, Irena Farinacci, National Inclusion & Diversity Coordinator
- Representatives of state affiliate bodies such as Tennis NSW incl. Gender Equity Lead, Casey Dellacqua
- State and Local Government bodies including Vicsport
- The Australian Sports Commission
- Sport Integrity Australia
- ACON Health’s ‘Pride in Sport’ program director
- Angie Greene of LGBTQI+ lobby organisation Stand Up Events
- Rowen D’Souza, CEO of the GLTA (Gay & Lesbian Tennis Alliance) and Tournament Director of the AO’s Glam Slam
- Hayley Conway (CEO) and Caitlin Bunker (Engagement Director) of Pride Cup
- Christine Granger (CEO) and other representatives of Proud 2 Play
Other than Dave, the Panel of Guest Speakers included Aussie tennis great, Sam Stosur and Dr. Ryan Storr, whose PhD explored the enactment and implementation of diversity policies within community sport clubs. M.C. was former USA TODAY journalist and Grand Slam media commentator, Nick McCarvel from New York.
The Panel was selected to provide three unique perspectives on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (D.E.I.) in tennis – that of the former professional player, the academic, and Dave representing community Club Land. (Dave made sure he was ‘on brand’ by wearing his CTC tennis shirt and cap.)
Prior to the official commencement of the Conference, the morning got off to a good start when Casey Dellacqua recognised Dave after previously meeting him at our club, gave him a hug and a big hello and introduced him to Sam Stosur and Craig Tiley as: “This is Dave from Collaroy Tennis Club – the Rock Stars of Inclusion among all tennis clubs in Australia.”
After the obligatory breakfast, M.C. Nick quietened the room and introduced the individual panel members, giving Collaroy a rap for its “great work” in this space.
Dave later commented with a touch of irony: “I didn’t feel out of place at all, sitting at the front of house beside a multiple Grand Slam Champion and an academic whose research, work and comments are often cited in media outlets from The Conversation, The Guardian, The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, through to ABC Sport and the New York Times.”
“For the next 30 minutes or so, Nick proceeded to direct questions to each of us on the panel, given our individual perspectives”, said Dave. “He was an excellent interviewer and put us all at ease. I spoke to the room about Collaroy Tennis Club’s philosophy of inclusion, led by Vito and the Committee, the Pride events we’ve run and the support for these events we’ve received from celebrities, sponsors, Club members and the wider community. I also talked about how we’ve engaged local LGBTQIA+ organisations GayCare Australia and Fusion Pride Northern Beaches as our Event Partners at these events.
“In particular, the audience loved me going to my one and only prop and showing them the redesign of our club logo to a Pride logo, used across all communications relevant to these events. That garnered a big round of applause.”
In general, Dave couched his answers to Nick’s questions with an overall view saying: “In some ways, having not walked in your shoes, I don’t see what we’re doing as anything overly special. We’re just a community sporting club who believes that everyone is equal and deserving of equal respect. We’re a Club that says everyone is always welcome and accepted at Collaroy, and we choose to walk the talk.”
This honest and open approach seemed to strike a chord in the room. When the floor was opened to questions and comments for the panel, the first was directed at Dave. Anti-discrimination activist and charity CEO Angie Greene (who also happens to be Frank Sedgman’s granddaughter), stood and asked (to much laughter from the audience): “Dave… can we please kidnap you?”
She went on to state that what Dave was saying, the way he expressed it and what the Club is doing is “beautiful and SO important”.
“Please don’t take this the wrong way”, said Angie, “but you are a white, slightly older gentleman, and what you’re saying is enlightened. A lot of homophobic views are blamed on generational perceptions, due to someone’s age… but like my 96 year old grandfather, you are a living example of the fact that it doesn’t matter how old you are, you can always celebrate all people and celebrate equality and inclusion”. (At this point Dave made a joke through his mic. about not realising this was an ‘ageist’ event, which got people laughing again.)
Angie then continued: “I’m a boring straight person, but my brother is gay. He played AFL for Hawthorn and came out to me when he was just 13, way before he felt confident enough to tell the rest of the family. Just seeing what he went through at school and in sport and hearing and witnessing the kind of language with which he was confronted every day… it made me realise how exclusive male sport is.
“Our research shows that almost 50% of LGBTQIA+ people intentionally exclude themselves from playing sport and joining clubs because they don’t feel welcome or safe. They are four-to-five times more likely to become depressed and take their own lives in comparison to their heterosexual counterparts. So please don’t think that what Collaroy is doing is not important. It’s no stretch at all to say that you are probably saving lives.”
Dave said he was a little taken aback by that, while the room burst into warm applause.
Sam answered questions about her time on tour, why she took so long to come out, what happened and how she felt when she did… her answers were authentic, heartfelt and riveting.
Ryan was asked about his latest research (to be published around May this year) and how (or if) things were changing for the better in terms of the rainbow community feeling safer to be themselves in a sporting setting. He made the point that while things are slowly improving and that tennis leads the way among all sports in this regard, there is still a long way to go.
As he said: “There has still not been a single male professional tennis player who has admitted being gay. The girls are doing all the heavy lifting in this regard. Similarly, there are very few, if any, gay males in high administrative office in sport in general and tennis specifically.” Ryan believes they are scared to apply for these jobs, no matter how qualified they are to do the work.
The interviews and questions completed, the room treated all panellists to a rousing round of applause. Photos were taken by the official photographer and panel members were all genuinely thanked by Irena for their input into the conference.
Nick McCarvel made a point of taking Dave aside and saying to him that “The room was captivated, in part because of your beautiful story and by the openness and passion you displayed.” He was very keen to hear how the CTC AO Pride event to be held that evening back in Sydney played out. (Dave subsequently gave him an update and sent through some photos.)
Irena eMailed Dave once he was back home saying: “Thank you for being such a fantastic guest speaker. It was so lovely listening to what you had to say from a personal perspective and also about Collaroy’s positive experiences running the Pride events… that means a lot to me. I know many others felt the same. All those I spoke to after the conference were impressed with your club’s commitment to including everyone from all walks of life!”
After the panel segment, Dave was in a mad rush to catch a tram back into the city and then the SkyBus to the airport so he wouldn’t miss his flight back to Sydney to make our Pride event. And yet he was forced to stop several times as he made his way through the crowd by people congratulating him and the Club for our work. Even having left ‘The O’ and walking through Melbourne Park, people who’d attended the conference were calling out to him by name and shouting their congratulations. (Crazy stuff!)
It’s fair to say that our involvement in this event was definitely worthwhile and that the Club’s reputation, already at a high level within Tennis Australia, TNSW and the broader tennis community, has been enhanced even further.
A big thanks to the Committee for supporting Dave’s attendance at this conference and to Dave for making the trip and (pardon the pun), doing the Club proud.