Will there be peace in the footy wars? A response to Tim Harcourt.

There are two sporting events that I hold as the greatest ones I witnessed in my life.  One was in Sydney when Australia after more than three decades the National Team qualified for a FIFA World Cup, and the other was my first Carlton premiership at the MGC in 1979.

These statements is something that I often feel I need to reiterate when discussing the so called ‘Code Wars’ because -as games- I like both the code I grew up with: Association Football, and the one of the place I migrated to: Australian Rules Football.

Anyone that has read my blog would have noticed that the issue of ‘code war’ between Association Football and Australian Rules is a favourite of mine.  Not the sport itself, because as I said before I love both, but my criticism is of the way Association Football is portrayed in the media, and as an extension of that how it reflect a notion of ‘us vs them’, even among fellow inner suburban caffe latte sipping lefties like me.

When I read the title of Tim Harcourt article in the Footy Almanac: Will there be peace in the footy wars? initially I thought it was dealing with the ‘war’ between the AFL and Rugby League.  After all in the past few weeks we had the great success of the Greater Western Sydney Giants who were just a goal away to be in a Grand Final who would have ruffled a few feathers in NRL land considering they would see Western Sydney as their patch.  And also we have the Melbourne Storm now in a Grand Final.

Tim’s article deal with this for half of his article, but does not seem to be overly critical.  For instance, Tim mentions NRL journalist Roy Masters who wrote a scathing article about the GWS before the preliminary final.

….the Giants are not perceived as representatives of what they cloyingly call “Greater Western Sydney.”  They are representative of the AFL’s drive to gain access to the NSW and Queensland share of the national advertising spend, with the two states contributing nearly 60 per cent……The AFL’s born-to-rule arrogance was obvious when it decided to start a second team in Sydney, assuming Blacktown is the heart of what they call Greater Western Sydney…..The Giants don’t belong to Sydney; they belong to the AFL who has subsidised them over $100m, gifted them No 1 draft choices, salary cap concessions and exclusive access to NSW regions to put them in a position where they can make the grand final after five years.

Tim writes:

Other non-AFL types like Rugby league loyalist Roy Masters have claimed that GWS don’t belong to western Sydney but belong to the AFL. But fortunately for Roy Masters and the scared Victorians, the Bulldogs won a close arm wrestle in western Sydney on Saturday and will be the people’s favourite (well, the Victorian people’s favourite anyway) in the big dance at the MCG.

If we are talking about ‘code wars’ Roy Masters is certainly on the front line, but he seems to get a slap on the wrist in the article.

But then the article turns towards Association Football:

But healthy competition between the codes is one thing, but like in the same sex plebiscite let’s hope it doesn’t end up in bigotry against one code or the other. For instance, soccer, known as football beyond our shores, is the world game but the world game’s greatest commentator Les Murray appreciates Australia’s indigenous game Aussie Rules and the rugby codes as part of Australian society, as much as he loves his own code.

Contrast Les’s tolerance with the authors of Soccernomics Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski who say:

“It was striking how quickly the Socceroos learned EEC football…they beat Uruguay in a play-off to qualify for the World Cup. Suddenly the Melbourne Herald Sun found itself wondering whether Aussie Rules Football could survive as the dominant sport in Australia’s southern states. Already more Australian children played soccer than Aussie Rules and both rugby codes combined…a century from now Aussie Rules might exist only at subsidised folklore festivals.”

Tim Harcourt objects at this statement especially at the last line.  (which admittedly was a silly throw away one).  But it was surprising that Tim seemed more upset at this statement, which to me looks much more mild and less controversial than Roy Master’s talk about ‘AFL born to rule arrogance’.

What also surprised me is that Tim has chosen two foreign authors as an example of ‘code intolerance’ (which probably as Tim say may not be familiar with Australia).  In all the years of reading sport reports I’ve never read any journalist, or player deriding or critising Australian Rules (can’t vouch for Rugby League) while NRL and AFL journalists or associated people have done this with Association football many times.

Added to this the ‘code war’ is unfortunately is fueled by some irresponsible tabloid journalism  that portrays Association Football support as inherently violent, while  similar incidents in other codes don’t get associated with the sport.

Wherever unintentional or not the semblance to somehow brush over the ‘code war’ between AFL and NRL and somehow targeting the main thrust of the criticism towards two Association Football  can somehow diminish the message.

The other issue is that while I don’t know whether Tim follows Association Football in Australia or the A-League, to me the article seem to come across by primarily an AFL and NRL fan.  Another example is when Tim mentions that clubs like Melbourne, Geelong and Port Adelaide are older than Liverpool and Manchester United, but perhaps not being aware that Association Football is over 130 years old in Australia with the first sustained competition starting in Sydney in 1880 and quickly spreading to other states. 

I (and many who are multi-codal) totally agree with Tim’s sentiment and there is no dispute to me that Tim’s arguments come from a genuine desire to respect each other codes.  As he writes there’s no room for bigotry in sport as in life, we should respect all codes and that we should be true football ‘multiculturalists’ and support all codes or at least respect the rights of others to love their code as they would their culture.

I would add that as with true multiculturalism, there will be peace in the footy wars when all codes are seen as part and parcel of the Australian sporting culture, and not one seen as somehow a foreign import and the other as a ‘true blue’ one somehow reflecting ‘true Australian values’.


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