AFL’s storm in a prayer room
Hawthorn President Jeff Kennett addresses the fans during a Hawthorn Supporters Day at Glenferrie Oval in Melbourne (Slattery Media Group).
“Treat others the way you would like to be treated.” They call that the golden rule. It’s high time that a certain few of those inside the AFL bubble started to actually listen to that mantra.
The response to the news that the AFL is to continue rolling out prayer rooms at stadiums across the country was astounding.
It was no surprise to see blabbermouth former Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett leading the charge by hopping on his soapbox once again to label the move as “not part of the Australian lexicon” and “ridiculous”.
“With due respect, the culture of Australia is a Christian society of many faiths and many community backgrounds,” he said. “When you come to a community, the community can be gracious and it can be generous but it doesn’t have to change its very fibre.”
Perhaps if Kennett was a little more aware, he’d first of all realize that there have been prayer rooms at the MCG, the home ground of the very team he serves, for seven years.
The spaces, which are available to people of all faiths, have been recently introduced at Etihad Stadium and ANZ Stadium as well. Other grounds will follow shortly. It’s only news now because the AFL last week tried to get some public relations mileage out of it, a move which may have backfired.
Kennett is, perhaps unsurprisingly, not on his own.
“This is Australia not the Middle East. The more you give to Islam the more they will demand. Make the Muslims rent space from the MCG if they want it,” read one impressively ridiculous entry into the comments section of a radio station’s website, one of many replies supporting the Kennett’s stance.
“We are and have quickly lost our sense of being Australian,” said another. And this: “How dare the AFL take the game MY forefathers have played for generations and turn it into a religious political football for a MINORITY.”
These are people who, assumedly, regularly go to football games. Perhaps they sit with their eyes and ears closed for the entire match, because people of all creeds and colours have been involved in the AFL pyramid for many years.
Jason Misfud, the competition’s community engagement officer – like Kennett, seemingly a magnet for controversy – is half Aboriginal, half Maltese.
There are Fijians, Irishmen, devout Muslims, North Americans and Australians of European descent. Andrew Demetriou is Greek-Cypriot.
Majak Daw, the North Melbourne rookie who is yet to play a senior game, is either trumpeted as a victory for the globalisation of the game due to his Sudanese roots or, funnily enough, spotlighted for every minor indiscretion or misstep he makes – which is counterproductive to the very idea of equality, but a rant for another occasion.
And, of course, let’s not forget the Indigenous people who have contributed so much to the game.
The AFL even dedicates the Dreamtime at the G game as a celebration of their contribution. That match is named after the spiritual framework of Aboriginal culture, The Dreaming.
So if we have come to accept that – and if we don’t play games on Good Friday out of respect – then surely it is fair to allow a Muslim (or a Buddhist, or a Hindu, or Gary Ablett himself for that matter) to pray at the football, quietly, without bothering anyone.
This does not impact upon the freedoms of anyone who goes to a game. We are more Australian than ever and the viewing experience will remain unchanged. So what’s the problem?
Maybe the real question is why is this a problem? Why, after so much progress, are there voices against multiculturalism in the AFL?
It’s not as if, to borrow a turn of phrase from Eddie McGuire, we’re going to have falafel stuffed in our face. This is irrational fear that has no place in the game.
Those who love Australian Rules football should be applauded and welcomed with open arms, not turned away because they do something different.
Vince Rugari is an Adelaide-born journalist who cut his teeth on the sporting graveyard that is the Gold Coast. He fancies the round ball and the Sherrin, and used to be a handy leg-spin bowler before injury curtailed a baggy green push. He is a Port Adelaide fan by birth, as painful as that has been recently. He's now sports editor of The Area News in Griffith, NSW.