The decision by Football Federation Australia (FFA) to implement a “National Club Identity Policy” has been met with almost universal derision. The move was announced on the eve of the FFA Cup draw, a competition that is supposed to bring new and old together and leave past disputes where they belong, in the past.
This comes just ten days after new restrictive ticketing measures were introduced for A-League matches, another FFA policy that has been met with outrage. So on the back of the implementation of two policies that make the FFA seem out of touch with football fans all over the country, it must be asked- Why must Australian football continuously shoot itself in the foot?
We are in the middle of the greatest World Cup tournament in the recent memory, perhaps even the greatest ever. The Socceroos have just outstripped all expectations and made us all proud with their performances against three strong nations. But instead of building on the momentum football gains from this, the FFA has seemingly decided to do everything in its power to agitate, annoy and offend the game’s existing fans, while minimising the possibility of generating new supporters.
When I wrote last week that there was work to be done, I was hopeful for the future. I was optimistic that we would get things right off the pitch. That for once football would build foundations that lasted a lifetime.
But sadly, that is the case no longer. As I sit here writing this I feel angry and bewildered. I can only imagine how offended fans of clubs around the country must be to be told that their history is not welcome on the national stage. I am genuinely perplexed as to how the FFA can deem this move a positive one. It troubles me that any organisation would develop, contemplate and implement such measures without once considering just how appallingly xenophobic they are.
I am as Anglo as they come. Australian parents for generations and generations, and an English-Irish background before that. But as a kid I remember endlessly pestering my parents to take me to Belmore to watch Sydney Olympic play in the old National Soccer League (NSL). “Hellas, Hellas” the crowd would chant. Not once was I afraid, not once did my parents ever think it was an unsafe environment.
So if I wasn’t afraid of the ‘evils’ of ethnic football clubs, why are the FFA? The Chairman of the FFA is none other than Frank Lowy. That’s the same Frank Lowy who was president of the Hakoah Social Club, which bankrolled NSL club Sydney City Hakoah.
Hang on, what? Lowy’s FFA wants to remove historical ethnic ties that clubs have in their names, colours and logos, but he himself funded a club with the very same ethnic connotations?
The cover picture above shows Hakoah Social Club patron Sydney D. Einfeld, President Frank Lowy and Director Louis Klein, December 9th 1973.
Why does Lowy want to eliminate the ethnic ties from football in Australia when he himself contributed to such associations between ethnicity and clubs? I am flummoxed as to how the FFA has come to this decision.
Sydney City Hakoah eventually went bust and has since been reformed, even qualifying for this year’s FFA Cup. In his biography Frank Lowy said of their demise that he was frustrated because the ASF (Australian Soccer Federation) and NSL leaders did not share his vision for the game. Boy, do we know that feeling!
I wonder what those who have reached the pinnacle of Australian football think about this move? What would the current Socceroos make of this decision? Well you could ask those with a Croatian background- captain Mile Jedinak, Ivan Franjic, Eugene Galekovic, Oliver Bozanic, Dario Vidosic and Matthew Spiranovic. I’m not sure they’ll be fans. What about Jason Davidson? His grandmother is Japanese and his mother is of Greek heritage. That’s far too ethnic for the FFA.
What about ex Socceroos? Mark Schwarzer’s parents emigrated from Germany, Mark Viduka’s father moved here from Croatia in the 1960’s. Again, this appears far too ethnic to be palatable for the FFA.
If the FFA doesn’t embrace our varied cultural backgrounds we are in danger of losing potential Socceroos to other countries. How would Tomislav Mrčela, Steven Ugarkovic and Mustafa Amini feel about playing for a country when the governing body has made it clear that their ethnicity isn’t welcome?
What about Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou? Does the Greek born former South Melbourne coach find it offensive? I’d be shocked if he didn’t.
Article 1 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) states that “the term ‘racial discrimination’ shall mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.”
That is the definition of racism provided on the Australian Human Rights Commission website. I’ll let you be the judge.
These restrictions are at the very least offensive and xenophobic, and there is no need for them. The FFA Cup was supposed to heal old wounds so it’s a shame that it’s just opened new ones instead.
But I urge you not to boycott or ignore the FFA Cup but to embrace it whole-heartedly. This a time to truly celebrate our footballing culture and these historic clubs deserve their moment to shine. Don’t take that away from them, that’s exactly what the FFA wants judging by their recent decisions.