After years of controversy the FFA is scrapping its existing national club identity policy (NCIP) in favour of the more flexible inclusivity principles for club identity (ICPI).
The ICPI is currently in draft mode, so it will be interesting to see what it actually looks like when finalised.
The effect of this change is that existing football clubs will be able to celebrate and acknowledge their ethnic heritage in their names and colours once again, something many custodians of the world game Down Under felt had been compromised after the NCIP came into effect during 2014.
Whilst the new move has generally been met with positive responses, there have been some concerns raised about the potential consequences. There have been a handful of unfortunate incidents – thankfully rare – which have stemmed from nationalism that has sadly seeped its way into football.
Australia is and always will be a multicultural society. It is everyone’s right to acknowledge and celebrate where they are from, which forms an important part of who they currently are. Football is one of the wonderful vehicles that Australians to celebrate our diverse and unique society.
From cevapi rolls to singing to colourful banners, the vibrancy you get at NPL and state league games is one of the most beautiful things about our game. The community feel and the generations of families and friends that come together to bond over the round ball game is fantastic.
However, there is no doubt the scrapping of the NCIP could have some unfortunate consequences. There are a minority of people who sometimes cross that fine line between pride and parochialism.
Unfortunately certain ethnic symbols and chants carry aggressive, provocative and combative undertones, which can cause trouble. This is totally unnecessary and unwelcome in Australia and is certainly not needed at football games.
Football always should be inclusive. People should be able to go to a game and have fun and not be provoked about their heritage nor experience any hate or violence.
Although most clubs work hard at ensuring fans who attend games have a safe and enjoyable experience, there is always a minority who want to spoil it for others. Things like alcohol and an unfavourable result can sometimes push people over that narrow line. NPL and state league clubs can find it challenging to police crowds at these games considering they aren’t major events, and thus the high-level security measures you get at professional sporting events are not there.
The reaction to the policy change on social media has been positive overall, with many fans excited about their clubs potentially reverting back to their traditional names.
For example, some Sydney United fans are calling for their club to go back to being called Croatia Sydney, hardcore Preston Lions fans want to be Preston Makedonia and more than a handful of South Melbourne fans want to include Hellas in their official name.
While one can’t blame hardcore fans wanting this, the question has to be asked: would this be a backwards move?
Some clubs have built new brand identities without their traditional ethnic names. This has helped them attract players and fans from all walks of life. Would these clubs be more marketable to the wider community if they reverted back to their old names?
The reality is younger generations have married into different families from a variety of backgrounds. Many kids growing up these days don’t have a single ethnic identity.
The traditional ethnic clubs have also now embraced their local communities, with many of their juniors being from their non-traditional backgrounds. This means families that are now part of these clubs don’t have links to their ethnic ties.
Sydney Olympic, for example, have a proud Greek heritage; however, if you go to a game at Belmore Sports Ground, you will find a number of fans from non-Greek backgrounds. How many would relate to the club if they were called Pan-Hellenic?
St George FC have a rich Hungarian history, but you will find a large number of their members are not from the European country. Would these fans be put off if they went back to St George Budapest?
It is a fantastic thing that clubs are now free to celebrate their heritage, but committees need to put some thought as to how they will move forward with this. Football is now the most popular code in Australia. Let’s celebrate it the right way.