AFL makes good decision on Good Friday football

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Demons players leave the field dejected after the round one loss to the Brisbane Lions in 2012 (Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media)

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The AFL is regularly accused of becoming too involved in social matters.

Often overlooked is their responsibility as an Australian organisation – and a prominent one at that – to uphold Australian values. It is for this reason that the AFL has made a wise decision to resist growing public pressure and abstain from scheduling matches on Good Friday.

Those against scheduling Good Friday games argue fans, teams and players who normally participate in the day would be affected. Supporters of Good Friday matches state the benefits of another AFL blockbuster and the opportunity to promote a charitable cause such as the popular Good Friday appeal. There are cogent arguments for and against the issue however there are fundamental points that indicate the issue should not be up for debate in the first place.

As a pronounced entity, the AFL has worked to earn its status in the community. The AFL realise the value of such a profile as they rightfully leverage this status to further promote the game and attract new supporters. All codes have a social responsibility; this is even more prevalent for the AFL due to its standing across the country thus they cannot avoid the social responsibilities that accompany their stature.

In order to maintain their status and popularity the AFL must ensure they continue to appeal to as many denominations as possible whilst ensuring they do not alienate sectors of the community. At first, this may seem like an argument for playing a Good Friday game. This may indeed please a large percentage of football fans; it would certainly risk alienating a significant sector of the community – including non-football fans.

Comparisons are drawn with another respected day on the calendar: ANZAC day and the popularity of the ANZAC day fixture.

ANZAC day is a public holiday to allow for people to attend the dawn service, to commemorate fallen soldiers and to celebrate the freedoms we enjoy in this great country; a public holiday is relevant despite many residents choosing not to attend any event of significance.

ANZAC day football exists because the day – in some part – celebrates the freedom and lifestyle we enjoy today. Australian football is an adequate example thus it was successfully argued that it would be a fitting tribute – provided the game paid due respects to the day. Regardless of whether you favour ANZAC day football, the AFL game does not interfere with the scheduling of other significant ANZAC day activities.

ANZAC day is meaningful to us as a nation so we duly decide how best to honour the day. Good Friday has very different significance and is not a day for Australians alone.

The public holiday is granted predominantly so Christians may observe the religious significance of the day. The key event is the mass said all over the world at 3pm, however there are other significant activities that occur throughout the day.

While we as a nation may choose how we wish to observe events in our own history, we do not have such authority over events with religious significance – only choice to align with the religion in the first place.

Many attend the ANZAC day clash as their tribute to the day and the game has subsequently honoured the day with suitable deeds; the minute silence, the last post, the national anthem, the guards of honour etc.

Good Friday is more than a charity drive for a hospital, yet the scheduling of an AFL game would almost certainly clash with the significant activities of Good Friday. In what way could the game adequately acknowledge the day’s original significance?

If the AFL neglected to suitably recognise the day it would be unable to justify the game as a tribute, so they would risk the scheduling being seen as a decision to disassociate with the day’s significance.

Research may indicate an increasing number of Australians for which Good Friday holds no significance. Similarly, we are a multi-cultural society with people from many different beliefs so if the game intends to truly embrace the people, should we not observe days of significance in other religions?

Perhaps risking disassociation to Christianity would be acceptable given the AFL is not a government institution, nor does it recognise other religions specifically. The difficulty is that the AFL has traditionally observed this day, so it would be a deliberate decision to shift from this position. While it may be controversial to announce a multi-cultural round or an indigenous round, it is far less controversial to be inclusive.

Diverse as we are, Australia currently identifies as a Christian nation. Good Friday does not hold significance in most non-Christian cultures thus they do not have a Good Friday public holiday.

In Australia it is a holiday because as a nation we recognise the significance of the day, even if individual residents may not. If we schedule a game during the day on Good Friday, we are asking people to attend that game instead of the events the day is held sacred for. If we cease to revere the day for its religious significance, we remove the very reason for the holiday.

The only acceptable way would be to schedule the game at night. It would allow time to attend religious events, for those who so choose.

However, if the argument for a Good Friday game is based on increasing numbers of people not observing the day, we are catering for a crowd who do not acknowledge the day whilst allowing respect for those who do. If those who do are truly in the minority, then the public holiday becomes redundant.

When we reach this point, scheduling a Friday night match on Good Friday is no different from any other Friday. When attendances and revenue dropped for the Royal Melbourne Show, the public holiday was removed. Those in regional Victoria and other states do not receive the Melbourne Cup holiday because even if they support it, they do not attend in high numbers regularly. Yet enough people support and participate in the day’s main event to justify the holiday.

The debate for a Good Friday game therefore is not about whether a game should be scheduled but whether the day itself still holds enough reverence to enough people that a public holiday is justified. If attendances for Good Friday services drop to insignificant rates, perhaps it would be justifiable to eliminate the public holiday. Like less popular religions in Australia, people could use an annual leave day to observe the religious significance of Good Friday while the remainder of Australians could work as normal and wander over to the MCG for the routine 7pm night game.

To challenge the reverence of the day is to challenge the need for the day itself. The government may accept people of all backgrounds, cultures and faiths and so it should. It is however a government aligned to Christianity and unless there is a shift in the government to be so aligned, the nation’s largest code cannot justifiably schedule activities against the most sacred of days in the current calendar.

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