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FFA needs to change its policy on ethnic names and emblems

We can handle an Albanian wearing Dutch orange, are we really so scared of a club with a Balkan name? (AAP Image/Dan Peled)
Roar Guru
9th August, 2014
106
5403 Reads

The FFA banning clubs using names, logos and emblems with “any ethnic, national, political, racial or religious connotations” is not political correctness, nor is it about creating harmony among football fans.

It is really a formal adoption of the suggestion that was raised and enforced by Soccer Australia in the 1980s and ’90s that football clubs were failing to capture the ‘mainstream’ public with their strong ethnic roots.

This saw Dinamo St Albans – a beautiful bicultural name – become St Albans Saints, and the South Melbourne Hellas became the Lakers.

Now, as an Anglo atheist, do I really identify with the St Albans Saints more than with Dinamo St Albans?

This policy is about Americanising Australian culture. Australia is not England or the US. The idea that Australia is an Anglo country is a myth that has been historicised through former Government policy and through erroneous oral history.

Australia has an indigenous past, so there is nothing original about the South Melbourne Lakers, or the Melbourne Knights – they are names borrowed from overseas countries, just like Brunswick Juventus.

However this policy wasn’t designed to rip the identity out of clubs, it was because of the marketing opportunity that was presented if clubs were to become more like Aussie Rules clubs, and be named something tame, plastic and shallow.

That is not to say AFL clubs do not have historical names – the Essendon Bombers are named after the region’s contribution to the RAAF in World War II, while the Sydney Swans are named as such because of the large number of West Australians on the original roster.

However they are not criticised or asked to become the Essendon Wild Cats or the Sydney Jaguars because of a marketing opportunity, or to not upset people who disagree with Australia’s involvement in World War II. The Bombers especially, are steeped in history and not many other teams would be able to call themselves the bombers – with many country teams changing to the the less threatening ‘red backs’.

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The Bombers are named after events that happened in the 1940s, and the Melbourne Knights (As SC Croatia) were created in the ’50s.

Australia has a long and significant migrant history that cannot be eradicated in favour of a ‘Team Australia’ identity, which we seem to recreate whenever we need to justify discriminating people on the base of their ancestry and culture.

Fans of clubs whose background is not anglo have been infuriated by this policy, because these clubs are a community, in which souvlaki is handmade and woofed down in the same way a sausage sandwich is eaten at Henson Park whenever the Newtown Jets play.

At Henson Park the rugby shares conversation time with music, politics and current affairs. This is because of one major point in which the A-League and NRL have missed especially, is that going to the football is a way of interacting with our peers. Sure if the game is good it’s a bonus, but it’s more than just watching 22 or 26 men chase a ball. Most clubs are based around a community engagement – it’s what makes the World Cup so cliché yet enthralling.

Australia has evolved since the ’80s, we are far more tolerant of others, and the whole idea of this policy is that Anglo Australians would prefer to go to Melita Stadium and eat a $12 small fish and chips than a ricotta pastizzi. These clubs are distinct to the suburbs they are in.

If you live in Melbourne you’d know St Albans has a large Croatian community, that Brunswick has an even larger Italian community, that Richmond has a strong Vietnamese community. It makes sense for the football teams of these suburbs to reflect that.

Do we insist that Italian restaurants change their name from La Notte to ‘The Night’? No, because when we go to an Italian restaurant we want to experience a different culture and cuisine. We don’t anglicise our food, our cars or our suits, but when we might have to accept that there’s a community out their different to us, who do more than run the great cafe on the corner, we run for the concrete hills of Americanised sporting culture.

Australia is a multicultural society and we have room to allow distinct cultures to flourish and the FFA should be leading the celebration of our differences, instead of pandering to a group of Anglo Australians with an identity crisis.

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Many agree with the FFA policy because it will remove ‘politics’ and ‘ethnic tension’ from football grounds, but this ignores the fact that racism against anyone, committed by anyone, is racism. Racism committed against a Bosnian by a Serb (or vice versa) is still racism.

It’s not ‘ethnic tension’, it’s racism. Just as an Anglo Australian discriminating against an indigenous Australia is racism, and through the Racial Discrimination Act, FIFA and FFA policy we have the power to kick people small-minded enough to commit racism to the curb.

But this brings us back to the idea that football fans are violent, which they’ve been statistically proven to be less than so than other sports. These clubs want their identities back, they want to be able to combine together and have a sense of worth.

That is not to say these clubs are mono-ethnic, all clubs in Australia want a wider fan-base. If the majority of the fans have Czech background, that’s great, it’s not going to mean Stephen Phillips or Oscar Eduardo cannot play or support them.

This policy is part of double standard, and slight discrimination against people of Central/Eastern European background. The Brisbane Roar play in bright orange because of their Dutch heritage, while the Western Sydney Wanderers are named after the Wanderers of 1880 – created by an Englishman!

I doubt the Roar would have been allowed to play in blue and white stripes, but green and white hoops? Go for it.

The time came 60 years ago, so it’s just ridiculous now, Anglo Australians with prejudice need to get over their fear of Australians of European descent and learn to embrace a culture that wasn’t brain washed into you through sitcoms.

The FFA need to remove this ridiculous policy and allow clubs to represent their local community.

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St Albans Dinamo beat Parramatta FC thanks to a Barry Devlin rocket and are now into the round of 16 of the FFA Cup.

If they’re drawn at home, their ground is a 30-minute train ride from Flinders Street Station – get to the game and embrace a culture that isn’t American.