Erasing racism must start at home

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This weekend saw five games of A-League football tagged with the moniker of the ‘erase racism round’, a noble concept in itself. However, it becomes a compromised initiative when Football Federation Australia (FFA) themselves last year implemented a number of discriminatory regulations, collectively known as the National Club Identity Policy (NCIP).

The ideological goal of collective harmony is one that we should all be striving to achieve, but when the FFA themselves are running competitions with discriminatory legislation and what can be perceived as a nationalistic mindset, the message is somewhat lost.

The NCIP states that clubs “must not use, advertise or promote any ethnic, racial, religious or political identifiers”, but also specifically states that the policy does not apply to representations of Australia, including the Australian flag. So clubs and players cannot celebrate their heritage or cultural background unless it’s an Australian one? That’s not erasing the scourge that is racism, it’s contributing to it.

There are further problems when analysing the politics involved in the A-League’s anti-racism campaign. All Together Now, an organisation who themselves have an admirable goal in abolishing racism in Australia, partnered with the FFA in ‘erase racism round’. Yet there is an issue comes when such an organisation collaborating on an initiative with the same body who concocted the NCIP.

All Together Now state that a comment is racist if “the intention is to hurt or offend another person because of their skin colour, nationality or cultural background; and/or a person is offended by a comment about or relating to their skin colour, nationality or cultural background regardless of whether or not the comment was intended to be hurtful or offensive.” There can be no doubt the NCIP falls well within these parameters.

So why have All Together Now not spoken out against the NCIP? Because they didn’t know. The A-League’s general manager is on the board of directors. Sam Chadwick, who is also the general manager for the FFA Cup, we have been told did not inform his colleagues of the policy. Chadwick joined All Together Now in July of 2013, a year before the NCIP was released.

Football Central has learnt that All Together Now’s board of directors, with the obvious exception of Chadwick, only became aware of the policy on Friday afternoon when social media users alerted them to the possibility of a conflicting message.

Football Central also understands that as FFA Cup general manager, Chadwick was included in all correspondence between the FFA and Melbourne Knights when there was a challenge made by Knights to the NCIP’s legality, reaffirming the fact that he was and is familiar with the NCIP.

So questions must be asked – did Chadwick speak out against the NCIP when it was being proposed but was overruled? Why did he not disclose the existence of the policy to his fellow directors at All Together Now? Football Central attempted to find an answer to these questions but he was unable to comment publicly at the time.

The conflicting messages from those at the top undermine their attempts to support worthwhile initiatives, such as the ongoing fight against racism in not only our game but society. The NCIP is a backwards policy and needs to be abolished if football is to move forwards.

Someone who echoes this view is Perth Glory CEO Jason Brewer, who expressed his desire for greater inclusivity in Australian football via Twitter on Sunday evening. Brewer suggested that the chief goal of ‘erase racism round’ should be to remove policies that prevent participation, such as the NCIP. Brewer added that exclusivity was “disgraceful”, and football in Australia is built on multiculturalism and that should be embraced.

Brewer spoke to Football Central about the NCIP and how a single round dedicated to racism isn’t enough.

“It’s actually paying lip service for issues that run a lot deeper than just a hashtag or a 30 second video, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t do it, I’m just saying we should be doing more when we’re in such a privileged position,” he said.

Brewer believes the NCIP and policies like it can have a negative effect on those new to Australian shores who are looking for a path into society through football.

“Fundamentally, I see it a lot over here in Perth with a lot of the new immigrants, the African communities in particular. They come here and they create teams to reflect where they are from, to be proud of their culture and their history, and they play under the nation of their birth but they can’t do that anymore.

“That’s their opportunity to be part of our society and you’re taking a lot of that away.”

Brewer insists that instead of trying to limit representations of ethnic diversity, we should be embracing them.

“Rather than trying to whitewash everything, rather than trying to sanitise everything, we should actually be proud of all the multiculturalism that we’ve got in this country.”

Western Australia, like a number of states, runs an annual tournament for African clubs dubbed the Perth African Nations Cup. The 2015 edition was held at Waneroo City and saw huge numbers of players on show, but Brewer believes restrictions prevent the harnessing of such talent.

“In that competition you had over four thousand people participating, but the amount of registered African players in Perth is a fraction of that. They can’t identify with Football West or even the Perth Glory, but they can identify, through football, with the country of their birth.

“That’s their outlet, that’s the way they can get out and be part of the football environment here.

“Why put up barriers for these people? Why create barriers which are really unnecessary?”

When asked if abolishing the NCIP was the best anti-racism message the FFA could send, Brewer went a step further.

“I think it would be to pull down every barrier. If you come from Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, Africa, South America or wherever you should be able to come into Australian society and become part of Australian culture.

“Not by anglicising your name or by removing all your ties to where you’re from. That’s something we should all be proud of, that our society here is able to bring all these cultures together.”

Brewer says he can understand how football fans and players become confused by decisions made at the top level.

“I just find it so inconsistent with the messages [from FFA]. Look at the Asian Cup successes we had in the Eastern states. That brought people that don’t go to A-League games, that maybe don’t go to state league games. They were able to go there and see the country of their heritage.

“They were all there with their flags, flags which can’t fly in our stadiums during an A-League game.”

Brewer added that the timing of the NCIP release carried more than a hint of irony.

“It [the NCIP] was a policy which came out during the World Cup. During a tournament which brings the whole world together and here’s Australia deciding to put out the NCIP.”

As Australian football embarks on a journey towards sustainable multiple levels of competition, robbing historically great clubs of their identity can be hugely damaging. Brewer believes we should welcome these institutions rather than ostracising them.

“We’re trying to create a second tier competition with clubs which draw from a number of communities, so let’s be proud of where these clubs have come from. Let’s not try and whitewash them or sanitise them, let’s engage them more because they’re the ones with the historical background.

“They’re actually the ones with, in certain instances, greater facilities and greater history than many of the clubs competing in the top tier now.”

Hopefully Brewer’s comments provoke further high level discussion regarding attitudes towards ethnic minorities in sport. FFA need to revisit the NCIP and the mesaage it sends and impact it has on the wider football community. If future ‘erase racism rounds’ are ever to be embraced and taken seriously the example must be set at the top.

Andrew Cussen

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