Lest we forget, sport is not war

Kurt Sorensen Roar Guru

By Kurt Sorensen, Kurt Sorensen is a Roar Guru

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    Along with the traditional ANZAC Day matches in both the AFL and NRL, the Fremantle Dockers will pay tribute to ANZAC in the Len Hall Tribute Game to be held on Friday night.

    Hall was a member of the Light horse Brigade who fought at both Gallipoli and Beersheba during WW1.

    He survived the nightmare assault at the Nek (the battle famously depicted in Peter Weir’s film ‘Gallipoli’) that C.E.W. Bean described thus: “The dead lay so thick on the ground, the only respect retreating diggers could pay them was not to tread on their faces.”

    Len Hall was with the Australian contingent when Lawrence of Arabia and the Allies marched into Damascus.

    He was also an avid footy man and the link to his memory is a poignant one for West Australian football fans. Hall died in 1999 as the last Gallipoli veteran from WA.

    There is a lot to like about sports wanting to pay homage to those that have served and fallen in armed service.

    There is a lot admirable in the willingness to show that we are able to remember the solemn and bloody sacrifice that so many men and women gave in war.

    And events like sporting contests offer a chance for people to come together and remember the deeds of people like Hall who served during armed conflict.

    But sport should never be used as a comparative event to the brutality of war.

    Len Hall, along with his service, is also famous for this quote made later in his life: ‘Next time I would fight for the Turks. They are good people and it was their land, not ours.’

    Hall was not a man enamoured with the farce that was Gallipoli, nor was he a fan of its futility and the subsequent glorification of the tragedy.

    He saw Gallipoli for what it was.

    It was an ill thought invasion of a sovereign state, one that mercilessly pitted young naïve soldiers from the other side of the world against desperate men defending their families and homeland.

    Both groups fought valiantly and many died bravely.

    In his excellent opinion piece titled ”It’s ANZAC Day, not the Big Day Out”, Jonathan King laments the gradual wearing away of the reverence with which ANZAC Day was once observed.

    Amongst his recollections King also makes mention of the way Australian society has been able to glorify what happened at Gallipoli by drawing on the ANZAC spirit as a means of inspiration, however misguided.

    And he specifically references one of this countries greatest sporting achievements, the 1983 Americas Cup victory as an example.

    Upon winning the Cup the man who bankrolled the entire operation, Alan Bond stated ‘ this is Australia’s greatest victory since Gallipoli”.

    Except that Gallipoli was one big, bloody fiasco and failure that needlessly cost the lives of not only thousands of Australian soldiers but also tens of thousands of Turkish and other troops from the British Empire.

    Bond’s statement alluded to Australians misunderstanding of the events at Gallipoli and what it should stand for.

    It also spoke to sports growing fondness for affiliating itself with the ‘glories’ of war.

    Australian professional sports alignment to war is a relatively modern one.

    In the AFL it was illegal to play football on ANZAC day until 1960, and even then games were only sporadic until 1995, when it has become an annual ‘tradition’.

    In rugby league the current incarnation of the ‘traditional’ ANZAC day match has only been happening for 12 years.

    But ANZAC day now gives sports teams and their coaches the chance to spout analogies comparing the games they play to the tactics and values that arise through battle.

    They talk of ‘celebrating’ the ANZAC spirit through sport; but sport is not war, and ANZAC day is not a celebration.

    Don’t get me wrong I watch and cheer the deeds of the players in the ANZAC Day games and am always excited by the spectacle.

    Indeed it must be said that the matches are valuable tools in educating the public on why ANZAC day is observed, and I feel the games played on this day are valid forms of remembrance.

    But I also recoil any time a comparison between sport and war is made.

    I feel sports do themselves and the ANZAC memory no favours by comparing, however loosely, the competition on the field to battles that have cost people their lives.

    As Anthony Green so eloquently wrote on the ABC’s Drum website last year ”ANZAC Day is about their deaths, not our lives”.

    Lest We Forget.

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    The Crowd Says (5)

    • April 26th 2013 @ 9:48am
      oikee said | April 26th 2013 @ 9:48am | ! Report

      Well said Kurt, and i know they made this known many times throughout the NRL Anzac day game in Sydney.
      The most impressive crowd yesterday was the people and families who turned up to the Anzac day parades and marches around the country.
      110 thousand in Syudney was outstanding, and Brisbane had 18 thousand just to the dawn service.
      I was out yesterday, i live in Toowoomba, so i got out to the dawn service, then later i took off, out into the country towns to see what was a colourful and brilliant country display of Anzac spirit.
      Cadets marching all dressed in uniforms, old soldiers on horseback at Laidley, and the town centres dressed and ready for the parades.
      Magic, and a experience not to be missed. They have a Service and March here in Toowoomba as well, but i wanted a nice sausage roll, so off we went. Stopped at Gatton , got me rolls and fresh buns.
      After lunch the footy was on, good day all round and really made this Anzac day that little bit special.

      I read that Quentin Bryce (gg) was in PNG at the dawn service , that would have been good.

    • Roar Guru

      April 26th 2013 @ 9:53am
      The_Wookie said | April 26th 2013 @ 9:53am | ! Report

      For me its usually the Dawn service on North terrace and then down to the Parade Grounds for the RSL breakfast. Then up to King Williams Street for the parade. Thousands and thousands, and the crowd seems to get younger every year. its good to see,

      • April 26th 2013 @ 10:07am
        Nathan of Perth said | April 26th 2013 @ 10:07am | ! Report

        Was at the King’s Park service; picturesque place for it, up there by the cenotaph overlooking the city.

        Was a very broad cross-section of society in attendance; as you say, it’s good to see.

    • April 26th 2013 @ 6:11pm
      Richard said | April 26th 2013 @ 6:11pm | ! Report

      Good article Kurt so thanks for that. I don’t think anyone really compares sport to the brutality of war, except maybe some commentators and television editors/producers. Cheers

    • April 27th 2013 @ 9:58am
      Brendan said | April 27th 2013 @ 9:58am | ! Report

      Kurt i dont think anyone seriously equates the courage, sacrifice and bravery of soldiers at war with whats required on a football field.Personally i think its respectful to the departed soldiers to honor there memory with football of all codes after the morning dawn service and march.In Changi the prisoners of war had an Afl competition with a medal being produced for the best player.In the second world war Australian troops greeted each other with ” Up there Cazaly” a reference to the great South / Stkilda player.I attended my first Rugby League game on Anzac day and the pride shown by the New Zealand people in the crowd when there national anthem was played really brought home to me how unifying and special Anzac day really is.

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