Stretching his long legs to latch onto a swerving pinpoint cross from teammate Mathew Leckie, Tomi Jurić half volleyed past Omani goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi as Australia extended their already commanding lead in their Asian Cup group stage clash. Jurić, a proud Australian of Croatian heritage, then lifted up his shirt to reveal a touching and heartfelt slogan underneath: “Mum, Dad, Brother”.
It was just his second goal in the green and gold of the Socceroos, and his first in a match of such magnitude. Jurić’s gesture acknowledged the crucial part his family have played in his development professionally and personally, all of which had led him to that moment of unbridled joy and pride. But the issue from some observers around Australia came not in the message, but in its delivery. Specifically, that it was written in the Jurić family’s language of origin, Croatian.
Jurić’s message was something that should be celebrated, not bashed by naysayers who are frightened at the thought of “an ethnic” wearing the Australian colours. Jurić has long had questions hang over him regarding his temperament and attitude, and a simple, thoughtful gesture was a much more appropriate way to celebrate than many other more overtly passionate options the 23 year old could have chosen.
More importantly though, Jurić’s message should also be held aloft as a symbol of Australia’s multiculturalism, not derided as “unAustralian” or “that foreign rubbish”. A country built on immigration that derides the most recent products of that same process seems to lack the fundamental ability to understand irony.
The passion in the stands and the artistry on the field during the Asian Cup so far has many fans wondering why we don’t seek to lure more players from this region, and attract supporters of these nations who clearly have a strong love of the game. This is why. This bigoted, uneducated and insular view of the world that seeps into the minds of too many Australians and tarnishes great nights like Tuesday.
Why would a player want to come to a league where the governing body implemented a plainly discriminatory policy such as the National Club Identity Policy? Why would that same player want to come to a league where a fellow professional (and an Australian, no less) is abused and castigated for writing a three word message in his family’s predominant language. Potential signings could be forgiven for thinking the vast majority of Australians harboured such intolerant beliefs.
Whilst we know this is not the case, the minority in this discussion have an innate ability to spoil things for the majority of individuals. Flares, refereeing, squad limits and salary caps all pale into insignificance when addressing this issue because it drives at the very heart of what football is. It is a game of expression, of individualism and also of the collective, of style and of definition. But it is also a game of multiculturalism; it is the most played sport on Earth. If this element of bigotry and racism isn’t quashed sufficiently, there is a risk of Australian football being perceived as the ‘white game’ rather than the world game.
If you don’t like Jurić celebrating in a manner that could have cost the Socceroos down the track (he should have received a yellow card for displaying a written message on his undershirt), then that’s perfectly fine. However if you think writing that message in Croatian is “unAustralian” or somehow not befitting of an Australian representative, then it is you who has the problem and not Jurić or any other player who chooses to express himself in a similar way.