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Ethnic Diversity in Australian Rules and Association Football in Australia

The issue of cultural diversity in the two codes of Australian Rules Football (which I will abbreviate as ARF) and Association Football (which I will abbreviate as AF) has re-surfaced in the social media in Australia.

The reason is this statement by Ray Williams that “no other sport celebrates multiculturalism as the AFL”

This has inevitably raised heckles from fans of AF which see ARF, but especially the Australian Football League (AFL) as a very anglo/celtic centric sport, and that they have decided to hop on the ‘multiculturalism’ bandwagon late in the piece as they realised they needed to attract Non English Speaking Background fans (NESB) to expand.  This is particularly true for an area which has a high proportion of   NESB such as in Western Sydney.  They see that ARF and the AFL really didn’t care about NESBs and in fact they were hostile to them, and that they got interested only when they saw a financial opportunity.

As someone who has followed Carlton in the VFL and then the AFL I think this observation is not particularly true.  I remember plenty of NESB players in my team:  Alex Jesaulenko, Val Perovic, Mario Bortolotto, Peter Bosustow, Spiro Kourkoumelis, Frank Marchesani, Stephen Silvagni,  Peter Sartori, Anthony Koutoufides. And from other teams such as Steven Alessio at Essendon, Peter Daicos at Collingwood, Robert DiPierdomenico at Hawthorn.

The issue is that at that time the fact that a player was a migrant, a refugee or had parents who were wasn’t celebrated.  In fact playing ARF was a confirmation that these players were integrated in the broader Australian society by playing the ‘Australian game’

Jock: A marvelous high mark you took last Saturday. You just seemed to go up and up!

Geoff Hayward: Yeah, i felt like Achilles

Jock: Yes…

[laughs]

Jock: … Who’s he?

Geoff Hayward: A Greek guy who could really jump

Jock: Ah, yeah yeah. Well some of these new Australians, you know they could be real champions, if they forget about soccer and just learn to assimilate.

From ‘The Club’ by David Williamson

This was the antithesis of AF (or soccer) where there were factors at play.  Mainly that AF was a ‘foreign’ game, something which (unlike ARF) wasn’t Australian, was played mainly overseas and therefore by this any NESB person who chose to play it, or follow it made a statement that he or she was not ‘integrating’ in the mainstream Australian society (at least in the states where ARF was the main code).

Two models of multiculturalism – mosaic or melting pot?

Often sport is a catalyst to see more clearly the undercurrents in society, and AF has been a very revealing one in Australia.

Sociologist and other researchers have examined how different cultures who are minorities handle their situation among a majority mainstream culture.

Initially the go was assimilation.  Then after the progressive movements in the 1960s the concept of  “multiculturalism” arose in the 1970s, and was proclaimed first as an official government policy in Canada when Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau promoted it as his official political doctrine for a nation containing English speaking and French speaking groups, the Native Canadians nations and more recent migrants. [1]

But a clear definition of what it means it still elusive.  For some it is still a form of assimilation.  By any means acknowledge the cultural background, and it’s great when it is within an ‘acceptable’ boundary (food and music yes, wearing a hijab..not so much). This is still the concept of the ‘melting pot’ advocated in the USA before the 1960s, but still one that many feel confortable.

The other is the mosaic model where distinct cultures co-exist in the same space and can have a common purpose but also different identities. [2]

So when the AFL extorts the values of multiculturalism it is really more of the melting pot model.  Players and fans may come from different cultures, but with ARF they are all in the mix together, any expression of players’ individual heritage is sacrificed in the ideal of a common Australian pursuit.  This can be clearly seen by the twitter hashtag the @afldiversity account uses:  

While AF, by its very nature it has developed a mosaic model.  Fans from different countries and cultures have created teams which are a direct representation of them.  Fans and teams express their particular heritage openly.

This latter form of cultural diversity sits uneasily with the orthodox view of multiculturalism in the Australian mainstream, where it is often a way of ameliorating a soft version of assimilation.

This is why Soccer Australia and more recently Football Federation of Australia has stamped on any individual national or ethnic identity of teams and created a league devoid of any link to any particular group or culture to replicate the AFL model.

Is Australia ready for a mosaic Association Football league?

Soccer Australia under the leadership of David Hill and now with the FFA have tried to turn football cultural model as mosaic multiculturalism to a melting pot model like the AFL.  Hill banned teams having ‘ethnic’ names, while the FFA instituted the National Club Identity Policy.

The problem with this is that changing the culture of AF from one form of multiculturalism to another is like unscrambling an egg.  The modus operandi of these two codes is totally different.   The question is whether the gains administrators of the game think they are getting by allowing multiculturalism, as long as it is not identifiable from a particular group is greater than allowing teams to express their background.

Towards a unique mosaic model

When I was following the NSL I followed Carlton SC.  I could sense that there was plenty of anger towards Carlton from some fans of the more established teams such as South Melbourne and Melbourne Knights.  Now I see why that was.  They saw the introduction of teams like Carlton as intruders trying to ‘de-ethnicise’ the game, and I can see why these supporters were so glad when Carlton fell apart.  I also can see that anger now directed towards the A-League as a whole.

I also think that Australia has moved on since those days.  Despite multiculturalism being under attack from many sources, including the government, I believe that a re-introduction of traditional teams with freedom to express their background will not mean a massive exodus of supporters.  I also think that it would not label the sport as a ‘wog ball’ as it did maybe 20 years ago.  And even if it did, do we want supporters who refuse to watch the game just because a team may have been created by a NESB group?

On the other hand I also hope that if traditional teams are re-admitted in the top tier of AF in Australia their fans will accept the teams that were formed  when the A-league was created as legitimate and leave the ‘franchise plastic teams’ barbs behind.

After all we are all here to further the game of Association Football in this country.  We can do it our way.  But we need to do it together.

 

[1] Multiculturalism (Multiculturality) / Translated by Jon Cho-Polizzi | TRANSIT

[2] Kallen, E. (1982). Multiculturalism: Ideology, policy and reality. Journal of Canadian Studies17(1), 51-63.

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Promotion and relegation in Australian Association Football – how could it work?

promrelmaths1There has been plenty of discussion about the idea of promotion and relegation in the A-League in the media and social media.

In the latter, there have been  – let’s just say – quite forthright exponents of this idea, creating in some cases quite heated debate.

Is relegation and promotion realistic for football in Australia

My position is that is a good idea on principle.  It would involve more players, therefore allowing more talent to come through, it would also involve more fans as the whole football community would be tied in one system. It would inject new teams in all levels refreshing the competitions every season.

However it can’t be denied that a promotion relegation system would encounter difficulties in Australia.  It doesn’t have a large population, and football is not the main sport therefore with all the implications of how much money is available to go around.  It is also huge geographically thus having around 40 teams criss-crossing the country could be very expensive.

However perhaps we could paraphrase JF Kennedy when he decided to send humans to the moon…“We choose to introduce promotion and relegation, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.”

How would teams move up or down?

One thing that I haven’t read much about is how actually the mechanics of a promotion and relegation system could actually work in Australia.  We read plenty that it would be a good idea, but how it could actually happen?

One of the main advocates of promotion and relegation in Australia, the Association of Australian Football Clubs.  In their document outlining their proposal for a second division (which they call the ‘Championship) there is a section which describe how the competition will be structured but I couldn’t discern how teams would move up or down divisions.  Much clearer is an article written by its head, Rabieh Krayem in an article written back in 2016, where he proposes:

  • A Second Division comprised of 20 NPL clubs with at least one from each state and territory and at least five of them be from regional Australia that aspire to something bigger and better as long as they meet specific criteria.
  • At the end of season 1, the top two placed teams are promoted to the A-League. No relegation takes place – just promotion.  This would expand the A-League by merit.
  • At the end of season 2, the same thing happens – but this time only the top team advances to the A-League.
  • This continues until the end of the fifth season at which time there are 16 teams in the A-League.
  • In the meantime, the Second Division would not have teams replaced until season 4 to ensure that it also has 16 teams by the end of year 5.
  • The existing NPL competition could continue as it is, as a de facto Third Division, with the two grand finalists then earning promotion to Second Division after the fifth season.
  • From season 6, full promotion and relegation can be introduced across the A-League, the B-League and the national NPL competition.

Another proposal was done back in 2014 by the famous SokkahTwitter figure ECP  In this proposal the second division would be divided in two conferences:

North Conference
5 x Sydney
2 x ACT
1 Wollongong
1 x Newcastle
2 x Brisbane
1 x North Queensland
1 x Sunshine Coast
1 x Gold Coast
NB-Possible inclusion of Northern Territory or NNSW sides if interest there

South Conference
7 x Victoria
4 x South Australia
2 x Western Australia
1 x Tasmania

Similar to the Krayem model, there would be no relegation from the A-League for at least 6 years in order to increase the size of the A-League to at least to a 16 teams from the North/South conference Champions

The bottom two teams in the North and South conferences would play off against their respective State or Territory Champions. For e.g. a Victorian side can only be replaced by Victorian champion and so on.

One thing I haven’t understood from this proposal is whether this system would reward NPL teams just because a second division bottom team comes from one state.  So let’s say the bottom second division team is South Australian.  Would only the NPL South Australia champion team has then the chance to be promoted while the others miss out?

Nevertheless the conference idea is worthwhile especially in Australia where the geographic distances are substantial.  How promotion and relegation occurs with conferences still remains problematic for me though.  Let’s say the top teams from each conference are promoted.  But the two bottom team from the division above come from an area where they would be assigned to one conference only, that would mean that one conference would receive 2 relegated teams and the other conference none.  So how the discrepancy of teams between the two conferences be resolved?

A different landscape

A major change since those proposals for promotion and relegation from Rabieh Krayem and ECP were written, is that the FFA has gone ahead with an expansion of the A-League.

This may mean that more teams are in the mix and that the idea of having a natural expansion of the A-League through promotion is not as clear cut.

However there have been considerable interest from new teams wanting to join the A-League, and considering that only 2 will be chosen, a second division with the prospect of being promoted to the A-League could be a viable alternative for some of these bids.

So what could work?

I think that the Krayem model could work, but the second division would be created by bids which were not accepted to join the A-League and any other NPL team who is interested and viable to join to reach 18 or 20 teams.

The process of promotion without relegation could proceed as suggested until the A-League reaches 16 teams.

And finally from season 6, full promotion and relegation can be introduced across the A-League, the B-League and the national NPL competition as initially suggested.  Maybe with a mix of straight promotion and relegation for bottom teams and playoffs for second or third top/bottom teams.

Of course there are factor at play, whether the teams are financially viable being a major one.  Implementing relegation and promotion in Australia won’t be easy.  But it is worth a try.  It will refresh the competition, keep the interest throughout the season and hopefully give more opportunities for more players.

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Football national team has become maistream, but how to take the next step?

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Australia national football team has now become mainstream and does capture the nation.  But it now needs to take the next step.

The day was the 16 of May 1981.  I think that was my first memory of a Socceroo heartache.  Australia was playing New Zealand to progress in the World Cup qualification for Spain 1982.  With other teams like Taiwan, Fiji and Indonesia in the group it was clear that to be on top and proceed to the next round it was between Australia and New Zelaland, and I expected that Australia would be on top.

But as inevitably we would experience in world qualifications until 2005, Australia unexpectedly lost 2-0.  Not only the world cup campaign finished even before it started, the coach Rudi Gutendorf resigned leaving the rest of the campaign in disarray.

AustraliaNZ

Apart for the result, what is notable about that match is the number of spectators in Sydney, 12,000.

From what I can remember of those days hardly anyone knew that there was a qualifier on.  No front pages articles asking for this or that other player.  You would get a small article in the bottom of the back page – if lucky.  Like this Canberra Times piece published the day after the match.

Socceroos1981

In those days football fans wanted firstly to reach the World Cup finals, but also to be respected and recognised in Australian sport.

Fast forward to 2018 and we have achieved those objectives.  We have reached World Cup finals and the Socceroos are one of the most prominent national teams in Australia.

That is why, remembering how in the past very few people outside football fans knew of the National team, let alone who was playing in it, I don’t mind people who watch the matches only every four years calling for Cahill’s inclusion.

Have we reached the next level in expectation?

One aspect of getting old is that I can see that attitudes change. Generally speaking my peers (I am 57) I think still have the mentality of 1982.  Football (or soccer as they would call it) would not be in their radar.  In my case in Melbourne is Australian Rules Football, and I don’t blame them. That’s how they grew up in their childhood.

And a bit the same with my peers who are  football fans.  Battered by 30 years of failed world cup qualifications and near misses perhaps we feel that making the world cup finals is enough.  And considering that qualifying is really hard, it is an achievement in itself.

But as the National Team has now captured the nation’s imagination, so there is now a group of young football fans who either have dim memory of, or didn’t experience the heartache of not qualifying for a world cup.  Someone born in 2002, the last world cup without Australia, is now 16.

So for them making the world cup is not enough.  They want more, and I sensed this much more this time than in previous world cups.  This can be seen as a positive development as a sport nation.  The question is, how do we go about it?

The perception from an unlearned person..me.

As someone who, while a fan, hasn’t been involved in football, either as a player or in a club, and therefore has little knowledge trying to understand how Australia could become a significant football nation by reading opinions from different sources could be baffling.

For example a prominent person in this area is Tom Byer

But then I read from others that thinks his ideas are nonsense

Then today on twitter someone put a video of an interview made by Mark Viduka

But then the idea of re-introducing ‘traditional’ teams to the top tier would be wrong. Then we talk about the curriculum, academies, the youth league being too short, the A-League teams not developing talent, the fees for children being too high, NPL teams using children fees for themselves not to develop players, children should not be forced to get results, children need to be competitive and learn how to win, children need to play on a full pitch otherwise they won’t develop, children should play in small pitches so they can get skilled on the ball.  Everybody seems to have its own opinion on how Australia could develop and be competitive in a world stage and dismissing the others.

Some say that this has been happening for years.  Some say that the FFA does not have the ‘culture’ of developing players as they are interested in short term objectives.

Who am I to know.

But as someone who wants Australia to do well in football, to have a team that when picked up in a World Cup group is feared, and not as the easybeat team,  I wish that some sort of plan is devised.  Some look at Belgium, being third in the world, if they can do it with 11.5 million people, can Australia do it with 25?

I remember when non football people used to say ‘Australia sucks at soccer’ every time we failed to qualify for a world cup.  Now they say that when we fail to get out of the group stage of the world cup.  Progress? Perhaps.  But it is not enough.

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Michael McGuire: AFL’s a world-class spectacle, but why is world validation of such importance?

This is an article that was published by the Advertiser and it is now behind a paywall.  I post it here for future reference.


Embed from Getty Images

Michael McGuire, The Advertiser
May 15, 2018 6:32pm

PORT Adelaide is in China this week for its second Shanghai game. Which means there are only three years to go before this slightly ludicrous exercise comes to a halt.

It’s easy to see why Port is there. They are chasing the same thing multitudes of other Australian companies have chased — bundles of cash.

For Port, this is particularly important. It’s looking for a way to achieve some form of financial independence from the overbearing and all-knowing masters at the Australian Football League.

Given Port’s financial history, it’s understandable they would reach out to grab any passing rainbow with a pot of gold at the end of it.

And they have had some success. But still, the chances of them playing there again after 2022 seem remote at best.

Port’s foray into China also fits into this ongoing weird narrative pushed by the AFL that Australian rules football needs to have some sort of global presence to be truly successful. Australia is clearly too small a market to sell Australian rules football in.

The AFL must be the most insecure sporting organisation in Australia. If it didn’t have chips on its shoulders it would have no shoulders at all.

Its constant desire to dominate the sporting news cycle, to try to eclipse any sports that it considers to be a rival, suggests an internal attitude of born-to-rule supremacy where all opponents must be crushed.

As an organisation, it has an arrogance that is neither justified not pretty to watch.

It occasionally likes to mix this arrogance with a dose of incompetence and a remarkable tin ear to public sentiment.

Then there are the seemingly weekly debates on the state of the game. At what point did the word “rules” become the most important component of the sport of Australian rules football?

What other sport is so dedicated to tweaking and changing and second-guessing the rules by which the game is played, sometimes on a week-to-week-basis?

If footy was a medical condition it would be attention-deficit disorder.

And yet, football is a game that seems to flourish despite the people who run it. That’s because when all the hoopla and hype is stripped away it’s a wonderful game.

Just watch Sydney against Hawthorn last Friday or the weekend Showdown and you appreciate the magnificence this game can produce.

Although when Freo and St Kilda popped up on Saturday night, there was an unusual urge to check out the Eurovision Song Contest over on SBS.

But generally, it’s a world-class spectacle, played by world-class athletes. However, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the rest of the world will have any interest in the game. But who cares? Why is the validation of our indigenous game by the rest of the world of any importance?

The suspicion is that it’s only to stroke the egos of those trying to run the game.

This grasping of straws is evident in concepts such as AFLX, which seems to be only another sad attempt to make the game internationally relevant. The X in this case standing for expediency. All of which means we should all brace ourselves for ever-dafter ideas from the AFL in the future.

Port’s China game will be played in front of around 10,000 people in Shanghai. Not a great deal in a city of 24 million. Last year, 5000 of them were Port supporters — presumably a lot of the remainder were Australian expats just there to enjoy a game of footy and a beer.

Which makes you wonder how much exposure the game is getting to actual Chinese people. The state government chucked in $350,000 to the enterprise last year, with then premier Jay Weatherill saying “this represents a very powerful new push by SA to internationalise its economy through the medium of sport.”

Yet, last year, Adelaide United played a Champions League game in China in front of more than 41,000 people, mostly locals, and received no government assistance.

If the new State Government want to continue down the “sport diplomacy” route it may be better off concentrating on soccer or even the 36ers, given the popularity of basketball in China. It seems a long shot to think footy is going to make much of a mark.

Original Article: www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/opinion/michael-mcguire-afls-a-worldclass-spectacle-but-why-is-world-validation-of-such-importance/news-story/131e52cabd05b0a59f097551edd041eb

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#ALeague season 2017-18. The view from a salad sandwich brigade member.

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Yes, I was happy that my team won the A League Championship.

But somehow I don’t get that sense of elation that I can hear or read with other fans. Perhaps it is because at the end, I am more a fan of football being successful as a whole in Australia than any particular team.  I have to confess that I got as much pleasure as seeing a city like Newcastle embracing the game as it did than my team winning the title.

For me following Melbourne Victory since it started was more of a statement in supporting a team that represented football in my city than supporting a team in itself.  And this was the same motivation when I was following Carlton SC in the NSL days.

This A-league season was exhuasting

That is why I feel quite exhausted, considering that overall this A-League season was not exactly the roaring success that those that want the code to succeed would have liked.  On twitter every low rating tweet from ‘Media Week’ was commented from a wide variety of people who are anti A League for a variety of reasons. From just plainly good ol’ soccerphobes that for some reason feel that the presence of a national football competition is somehow an affront to the national culture, to the eurosnobs that greeted each low rating as a confirmation of their superiority, sophistication and intelligence in not following such an inferior competition.  Then to those that field aggrieved that their team is not in the A-League and believe that the competition is racist and xenophobic and following it is like following a sporting version of the Hitler youth and should be destroyed.

Finally those who gloated at the low ratings were the promotion/relegation advocates.  To this last group I have to say they have some reason to believe that a promotion/relegation system may get more interest as the bottom teams would not ‘kill time’ until the end of the season but would be engaged in relegation battles.  And I can also see that having new team promoted refreshes the competition and fans would have the opportunity to see new teams in the top competition every year. Whether this would translate into higher ratings remains to be seen.  While certainly there are plenty of good reasons why promotion relegation should be at least tried, I don’t think substantial higher ratings would be one of the outcomes.

All I want to to sit and watch some football

Believe or not going to AAMI Park or Etihad and watch football is a serene experience.  I have a reserved ticket and people that I know follow Melbourne Victory like to sit/stand somewhere else (mainly either in the north or south ends) so I am quietly there on my own and I cheer when we score.

Embed from Getty Images

And this year I got some small notoriety of sorts when during a match in late December I took a fuzzy picture of some English cricket fans that were here for the cricket and were told to take their banner down.

This was picked up by some media twitterati.  I was quite chuffed but really later I realised they had to take the banner down because they were obstructing a publicity sign.

I enjoyed the matches.  I enjoy going to see a sport that is part of my family and part of my family for generations it makes me feel connected. I enjoy sitting with people that  also believe in the sport and in some way the fact that it is Melbourne Victory is not the main thing.

Many good articles have been written about what’s happening to football in the future.  I have been critical of Simon Hill for his disparaging of other football codes, but he wrote a great article that really sums up what many football supporters are feeling and thinking. 

The main focus of Hill’s argument, and where I agree wholeheartedly is this:

In my opinion, we have spent too long trying to pander to the demographic which has little interest in our game — by doing so, we have watered down our core product; the very things that make football special, and made millions of us fall in love with it…..

Football fans just want a competition they can engage with, on terms they are familiar with, with clubs and players they can identify with. We should never be embarrassed by our points of difference — we should celebrate, and promote them.

To make a great example of the “he demographic which has little interest in our game” watch this clip from ‘Sport Sunday’ where a Rugby Union, Rugby League, Swimming, and AFL people discuss the A-League. You can see that they have little knowledge and interest in it, and some of their suggestions are impracticable or just can’t happen. These are ex-players or sportspeople, but I think they do reflect the opinion of those not interested in football at large. They are not the cohort we should be following.

Another great article was from Micheal Lynch.

It is a measure of the underlying strength and support for the game that despite all the problems it has faced this year there are anything between eight and a dozen or more consortia interested in bankrolling a new club.
When you consider the kicking soccer has got – mainly from its own followers – over the stagnation of the A-League, the boring nature of a 10-team competition lacking promotion and relegation and the rollercoaster ride the Socceroos had in getting to the World Cup, that’s not a bad achievement….

Soccer in Australia has often been referred to as the sleeping giant.
Given the last year the game has had – rescued only by a stunning finals series, perhaps the best ever – perhaps it should be thought more of as a super bug or a cockroach: the game that its opponents and enemies simply cannot kill.

Lynch advocates that the number of bids should allow for a second division and a system of promotion and relegation.  This is an idea that initially I was against but now I support.  I won’t go into the benefits or not of promotion and relegation in Australia, as others have done this much more extensively than me already. 

So what next.  We have a world cup (which I hope we do well, but I anticipate there will be more gnashing of teeth) and I think the Matildas are not going to be playing a major tournament until the World Cup next year.  There are NPL matches as well, although I haven’t been able to settle on a team to follow as yet.  A friend of mine invites me to join him at South Melbourne matches at Lakeside Stadium once in a while and I do enjoy that.

And I will be waiting for Melbourne Victory to send me a membership form in the next few months.  And then will be on again.

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Why soccer fans jumped on #BallTampering #BallGate #SandpaperGate scandal

If you lived in Australia yesterday and read some of the reactions to the ball tampering scandal by the Australian cricket team it might have thought it was something like the bombing of Pearl Harbour, “A date which will live in infamy”.

For people like me that didn’t grew up with cricket some reactions felt a bit hyperbolic

Soccer fans on twitter were having a field day.  Especially after years of people like Malcolm Conn, the communication manager for Cricket NSW and Cricket Australia taking to twitter to slag soccer at the first opportunity.

Cricket as an expression of ‘Australianess’

The origin of this schadenfreude arises from being told that sports like AFL football and cricket are the ‘true blue’ Australian sports, and that sports like soccer are ‘foreign’ and ‘not Australian’.

When the World Cup comes around and the sport of soccer becomes too prominent to ignore the commentary of ‘we are different’ comes to the fore.  This is an example from Neil Mitchell in 2010.

That awful habit many soccer players have of falling down as though shot when an opponent brushes past. As Jason Akermanis wrote in this newspaper yesterday, it’s a blight on the code.

It’s embarrassing, frustrating, and humiliating. It leads to horrible mistakes that can cost a game when a player is sent off. It’s bad pantomime. It’s cheating. It is unfair and un-Australian.

I bolded the last word because this is the crux of the matter.  Australians see themselves as fair dinkum, a bit rough but fair.  And sport has been probably one area where they see this trait the most.  We might not be able to match the world in many things, but in sport we hold our own.  So sport is a really strong vehicle for identity to ourselves and to the world.  Even a former Socceroo has gone the full Monty in describing cricket as the ‘true national game’.

If you want an example of how cricket has been part of the hagiography of Australia you just have to listen to Paul Kelly’s obsequious song about Bradman.

There is also plenty of superiority imbued in Australian sport commentary, that somehow we are a superior breed of sportspeople because we don’t give up, we take on the odds, but most of all we don’t cheat.  This is what ‘lesser breeds’ of sport people do.  So when we have a blatant cheating action by the team that should by its heritage and traditions represent the highest values of Australian sport the dismay and gnashing of teeth is inevitable.  Cricket, has ‘fallen’ in the category that many place soccer….it’s ‘un-Australian’.

Perhaps this will be a good reality check.  That Australians are sport people like everyone else.  Prone to temptations and that all sport, whether it has been exalted to be the purest form of Australian sporting culture, or one that has been cultivated in migrants’ suburbs near factories in the post war period are all susceptible to human frailties.

 

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The perils of delving into #sokkahtwitter

I am addicted?  Maybe I am.  When I scroll down my twitter byline I always pick the posts dealing with #aleague or #FFA first.

The life and times of Association Football in Australia have interested me ever since I decided to turn away from my eurosnobbishness and embrace the complicated beast that is ‘soccer’ in this country.

Twitter is fantastic to delve in this stuff.  That because there are so many people, passionate people who participate.  But it is not the place for the fainthearted.

For Modern Football‏ (@ForModernFootbl) made a famous video about the perils of the unwary.

Twitter is awful for subtleties in debating something.

One main issue about twitter is that it is one of the worse platform to discuss issues.  But worse that that, and that is often my case for me, is that validating an opinion, even asking whether it is correct or not is sometimes pounced upon.  It may be a feature of how twitter interaction occur, but it seems to me that some tweeters takes things very personally (and this is not only something that happens on #sokkahtwitter, but throughout twitter as a whole) making me hesitant to interact on certain issues.

Promotion and Relegation for Australia. Too hot to handle.

Ten foot pole

While the whole of #sokkahtwitter can be fraught with danger there are some topics which for me have almost become a no go area.  First and foremost is the promotion and relegation issue.

For me this has been an interesting topic and #Sokkahtwitter has been quite pivotal.  I started as totally against it, to maybe but years down the track to we should look at a model to introduce it.

And this shows why  in certain cases twitter can be useful in changing ideas and perception.  It does offer easy access to a variety of opinion.

But in the case of #sokkahtwitter, promotion and relegation goes to the heart of a major issue that has been present in Association Football in Australia since the post war migration from Europe, when Non English Speaking (NES) migrants established their own clubs.  In Joe Gorman’s fabulous book, Death and Life of  Australian Soccer, it mentions how back in 1950, ‘new Australians’ forming new clubs should be investigated , and since then this issue seems to have been a major rift permeating through Australia’s Association Football history.

The aged old question of soccer and ethnicity

The A-League was devised as a brand new start purposefully eliminating the traditional clubs such as South Melbourne, or Sydney United which were created by  NES groups.  My first memory of this clash was with the  Bradley Report in the 1990’s that blamed the game’s “ethnic image” for the National Soccer League’s lack of penetration.

“In the long term”, Bradley concluded, “the ASF needs to create the image that soccer is not ethnic.” Indeed, according the the report, one of the five major problems facing football was that “it is seen as a game for ethnics.” [1].

The Bradley Report was used by the then Soccer Australia administrators David Hill and George Negus, that not only told clubs to eliminate any ‘ethnicity’ from their names but also created franchised clubs like Perth Glory, Northern Spirit and Carlton as a way to offset ‘ethnic’ clubs.  I remember as a Carlton Soccer Club supporter that the acrimony towards my club by some South Melbourne supporters were very similar to what is given to the A-League now as a whole.  They were seen as a way to ‘de-ethnicise’ the game, the same way as the A-League is seen to do that now.  (and the ridiculous National Club Identity Policy by the FFA has fueled even more resentment)

Some A-League supporters have labelled supporters of traditional clubs who have been excluded from the A-League as ‘bitters’.  As term that I dislike and I disagree with.  These clubs for better or worse have been the lifeblood of Association Football in Australia for 60 years or so.  I can understand the anger they would feel to be excluded because they don’t fit a ‘mainstream ideal’ of what marketers believe is Australia.   But this is a different argument (and one that others have written about before much better than I could).

Promotion and Relegation the new battleground.

Promotion and relegation has become the latest battleground on this issue.  The argument is that any inclusion or exclusion should be based purely on merit, not on the cultural background of a club.  Many proponents of the #ProRelforAUS argue that a club like South Melbourne could bring more interests to the A-League than a Central Coast Mariners or a Wellington Phoenix, and they may be right.

The issue I have is that despite being a promotion and relegation supporter, I still have some questions on how it would work.  What type of model we should adopt that would make the competition sustainable? Does the fact that we may end up with the top tier being dominated by Sydney and Melbourne teams a problem?  Do we think that some club owners would not be interested in investing into a team if risked to be dropped into a lower division?

Unfortunately when I tried to ask these questions the responses I got were not constructive, but angry and that (as a supporter of an A-League team, which makes me suspect in the first place) I was against NES teams joining the A-League which was racist, bigoted etc.

I may not like the responses I get, but I can understand why some tweeters respond the way they do.   The rift and tension between making Association Football ‘mainstream’ according to the Graeme Bradleys of this world and the fact hat inevitably Association Football is a game which is followed and nurtured by many NES background Australians raises many questions.

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These issues of identity and exclusion are deeply personal and can cause deeply hurtful events.  That Association Football is not seen as part and parcel of the Australian sport culture by many, and that it seems the FFA is more interested in chasing these people than dyed in the wool Association Football supporters,  amplify this fact.

Perhaps I will just have to let this issue go on twitter, or perhaps find other venues to discuss it.  But mostly it shows how fragmented and divided the world of Association Football is in Australia, from the disputes with Lowy and the FFA to the average fan.

Until there is reconciliation, agreed outcomes and even some compromise, Association Football may be condemned to recycle aged old disputes, and surely twitter won’t do it.

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[1] Gorman, J. (2012, December 26). Australian football decides: it’s hip to be ethnic. Retrieved February 24, 2018, from http://www.theroar.com.au/2012/12/27/australian-football-decides-its-hip-to-be-ethnic/

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