This weekend, the AFL celebrates its annual multicultural round, a time to acknowledge that the indigenous game has been sustained by Australians of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds since the rules of the game were first codified in 1859.
It’s good timing, given the well-publicised, racial slurs that were directed at Buddy Franklin, Majak Daw and Joel Wilkinson in the past couple of months.
The first two involved an individual spectator, the latter involved Western Bulldogs footballer, Justin Sherman, for which he received a four-week suspension.
The AFL first introduced its Racial and Religious Vilification Policy in 1995, becoming a world leader in the sports industry. Earlier this year, the AFL was invited to talk on the subject before the UN Human Rights council in Geneva.
As just one example of the multicultural footprint on the AFL over the last 70 years, the Italian-Australian community has produced three father-son combinations: Ron Barassi Senior and Junior; Sergio and Stephen Silvagni; and Tony and Tom Liberatore.
Today, the AFL continues the tradition with the inclusion of players from newer communities, such as Nic Naitanui, Majak Daw, Harry O’Brien and Bachar Houli.
Last night, Fox Sports dedicated a half hour special on the forthcoming multicultural round, focusing on such matters as the Auburn Tigers Football Club (a Western Sydney club fielding mens and womens’ teams with a high percentage of players of Muslim background), the work being done in the South Pacific to attract more people to the game, the ten or so Irish players currently on AFL lists, the historic international between the Italian and Irish womens teams, and the International Cup which commences on 12 August.
For the second year running, a World XVIII and a South Pacific team have entered the NAB AFL under-16 Championships, in Division Two. Both teams experienced a win in the first round and had narrow losses in their second game yesterday.
The 2011 International Cup is the fourth of its kind, having commenced in 2002, and will be the biggest held in its short history. The AFL is now actively involved and a women’s division has been introduced for the first time.
Papua New Guinea is the reigning title-holder and is likely to be too strong for the other teams, although Ireland has done a fair bit of planning. One player on the AFL list has been released to represent Ireland, while another was on an AFL list for a short period. This too is a first.
The key point is that in 2011, the multicultural round takes on a whole new meaning: ongoing respect for the diversity already contained in the game, with a hope that this diversity will be extended both within and without.