Is the All Stars match increasing the divide?
Shaun Kenny-Dowall: Indigenous v NRL All Stars, Skilled Park Stadium, Saturday Feb 12th 2011. Digital image by Charles Knight Â© nrlphotos.com
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Last weekend’s All Stars showpiece gifted us some great footy with a high scoring game played at blistering pace facilitated by two talented teams, including a few interesting rule changes.
The brainchild of Preston Campbell was acting as a curtain raiser for a third successive season and based on the reaction of the crowd, the players and those of us that were parked on bar stools, it appears it is now very much a part of the footy landscape.
To the surprise of many who figured the Indigenous side had a lot more to play for, the victory for the NRL All Stars has meant they have now taken a 2-1 lead in the head to head ledger, in what many now believe could the early stages of an intense rivalry.
But it is this very rivalry that bothers me.
We live in a society that is built around cultural divides and this game is only enhancing that. Ethnicity is the steering wheel to our daily lives often driving what we eat, where we live, our religion, who we associate with and even what sports we follow.
Sure, there are no steadfast rules and the attempt at multiculturalism in Australia has allowed a large amount of flexibility in these areas, but our sense of who we are is often derived from our family which in turn is derived from a cultural background, however exotic it may be.
As it stands, this match-up is a very friendly one, but all it will take is a few lop sided results or a period of dominance for it to start unintentionally providing fodder for anyone who wants to argue sporting prowess along racial lines.
One would hope that the majority of non-Indigenous fans are sensitive enough to the plight of the Aboriginal community to be actively cheering against them and generally view the game from neutral perspective.
But whilst there is sure to be no shortage of guilt ridden lefties cheering on the Indigenous team, it is no way stretching reality to suggest there are there are also those who are actively supporting the NRL All Stars through their voting, with their hard earned and vocally every time Hindmarsh goes in hard at a fast moving Thaiday.
Just how this is helping to heal these intercultural problems brought about by decades of abuse through predominantly white governments, I don’t know. This game is built around the ‘us against them’ mentality and whilst it is all handshakes and smiles for now, I can only see the all-star pot eventually boiling over.
One need only look at the rivalry in State of Origin that has developed over time and now flourishes into what almost all rugby league supporters feel is the peak of the game. Whilst there is no violence between the two states, the undercurrent of dislike is palpable at that time of year. Cheeky jokes and ribbing of co-workers or interstate family members is only a flakey exterior to something slightly more sinister that lies beneath.
The players can barely go one match without resorting to the biff and the rivalry is such that this testosterone fuelled angst is slowly distilled into society’s state divisions.
If a rivalry of similar proportions develops in the All-Star game, then Rugby League will surely be swimming in the murky waters of the Billabong.
Maybe I’ve got this all wrong, and all everybody wants to just see is a great game of league and celebrate some fantastic Indigenous role models in Australian sport. Much like the NBA All Star game, the result is negligible and folks just the chance to witness many stars of the game playing on the same team. If this is forever to remain the case then let the good time roll.
But I have some severe doubts that as the intensity builds, the status quo will remain.
For those of you that cannot foresee any problems with this match up, think about this. If someone suggested an ‘Anglos’ vs ‘the rest’ style of game it would quickly be suggested that they probably know how to fashion a bed sheet into a pointy hood in under 30 second flat.
The pride of the Indigenous players getting out in the communities and pulling on their jerseys for the game are clear for all to see and I am in no way advocating the removal of this important element to the Indigenous community. But surely some more appropriate competition can be found that doesn’t divide Aussie against Aussie using racial stratifications.
Can they not play against New Zealand, an British ex-pat side or even a Maori side similar to the NZ Maori Union Team that has been in existence for many years?
Interracial tensions are already in the media’s gaze following the so-called ‘attack’ on the security of the Prime Minister which turned out to be little more than the kind of banging on glass that you see when people are unsure if a restaurant is open.
This Invasion Day fiasco was orchestrated by someone close to the PM and with the whole incident being played out in front of a large section of national media, Julia and her dropped slipper became the most talked about foot ware since Cinderella made a hasty exit from the ball.
This whole event was a prime example of how the race card can be played in such a way that it creates something that isn’t really there.
I know that was clearly not the intention of Preston Campbell when he pushed for this game but unfortunately it has the potential to drive a damaging wedge between the Aboriginal community and society at large.