This article appeared first in the Age as "A multicultural AFL? Not quite" 13 July 2013. A year on and it was just as fresh. I tweak it on and off as the AFLdiversity site releases its new figures. The latests figures suggest the game is becoming even more monocultural.
Someone needs to call the AFL out on this one. As if we don’t have enough ‘noble work’ rounds already, we are this week lumbered with the most ludicrously framed of them all, Multicultural Round. The only round more silly would be the one that celebrated the game’s great Barrys.
Now I’m not against the idea of celebrating cultural diversity in any arena. More power to those who want to remind us that we live in a diverse and multicultural society. Yet, no matter how many celebrations of Anzac, Aboriginality, women's round, heritage round, whatever round, a great number of the game's supporters seem entirely opposed to these ideas. The booing of Adam Goodes is only the surface of the intolerance that seems to flow through Australian rules football. Ultimately the game is xenophobic. Moreover, that fear of the outsider is something of which it is perversely proud.
If this were not the case and anyone in the AFL bothered to think deeply for even a moment about the motivations of the Multicultural Round they would run a mile.
|Are these the face of multicultural AFL footy: |
a Wallaby and a bloke they don't understand?
Unfortunately, the AFL does not have all that much to celebrate in terms of its cultural diversity – yet. While the AFL Diversity website claims that “Australian football has the extraordinary power to bring people together regardless of their background,” the proof of the pudding is just not there. For example, the AFL concedes that of the 811 listed AFL players, only 24 were born overseas (9 to Australian parents), just 3 per cent. This can be compared with the general Australian population in which over 27 per cent were born overseas. (The AFL claims this figure is only 20 per cent.)
Perhaps it could be argued that AFL figures are not representative of the game of Australian rules as a whole. This may be the case but would then be an indictment of the development pathways available for the non-Australian born. Moreover, footy has had many years to integrate the overseas born as elite players and has failed to do so. It's not as if substantial numbers of migrants have only just recently popped up on our shores. Since 1970 the non-Australian born have represented over 20 per cent of the Australian population. The lowest figure since 1890 is about 10 per cent in the immediate post-Second-World-war years.
The AFL claims a higher figure in relation to those of a “Multicultural background”. About 12% (down from 14% in 2014 and 15% in 2013) of listed players fit the AFL’s Multicultural criteria of having at least one parent born overseas. So the AFL falls down here as well, with over 45 per cent of the Australian population fitting this criterion. In 2016 A total of 113 players (14%) were from a multicultural background (i.e. having at least one parent born overseas) and 20 players (2.5%) were born overseas among those listed in the AFL in 2016." [I will rewrite this section once the 2017 figures come out.]
When we look more closely at the AFL's figures, further problems appear. The AFL Diversity website lists 99 'Multicultural players (down from 112 in 2014, 121 in 2013 and 118 in 2012), carefully noting their parents' country of origin. Of the 99, over one-half have one parent from Anglophone countries, mainly Britain, Ireland and New Zealand. The evidence suggests that only 7 of the 811 listed players are from non-Anglophone families. Steele Sidebottom, born in Australia to an Australian father and English mother does not strike me as a significant embodiment of cultural diversity. And the idea that Heath Grundy’s Kiwi mother makes him somehow ‘multicultural’ borders on the perverse. From the list of past multicultural players: Dermot Brereton? The man so sensitive to diversity that he told Adam Goodes to HTFU. Really?
Bizarrely, this definition would allow most of the game’s Anglo-Australian founders to be described as Multicultural and eligible for selection in the all-time Multicultural Australian rules team.
Yet this construction of multicultural identity is not universally applied in the AFL’s thinking. Fourth generation Australian Ron Barrasi is included in an historical list of Multicultural players. There’s a tokenism here that cares more about the woggy surname than it does about the realities and differences of Italian-Australian culture. It’s all just a bit silly.
Actually it isn’t just silly. It’s also pernicious. The problem with all of this lies in the construction of a ‘Multicultural’ identity as opposed to another (true blue?) identity. The diversity gurus at the AFL seem to think that in breaking Australian society into two categories (insiders and outsiders, native-born and migrants, or Australians and multiculturals?) they are doing us a favour when in fact they are replicating the kind of Hansonite stereotypes that gave us Cronulla. When Eddie McGuire makes stupid comments about the “Felafel Land” of Western Sydney or Kevin Sheedy reveals his ignorance in talking about the immigration department supplying supporters for the Western Sydney Wanderers, they articulate the AFL’s failure to understand the social fissures encouraged by this false division between ‘real’ and ‘wannabee’ Aussies.
The bottom line is that in a multicultural society we are ALL multicultural. We all have ethnic and cultural baggage that sets us up in relation to the fluid process that we call multicultural Australia. We are all in it together and none of the imported cultures deserve the priority that is the privilege of the truly indigenous.
The AFL is to be congratulated for recognising and using its great social clout for good in relation to any number of issues. The way the AFL has supported indigenous players in their struggle to be recognised as powerful and legitimate contributors to the game is one of our great sport stories of recent times. It should also be supported for acknowledging that it is not a particularly diverse sport and taking steps to correct that.
But I’ll be buggered if I am going to pat them on the back for playing catch-up football in relation to the vital issue of cultural diversity. Let me know when the siren sounds on this game because I reckon we have a while to go. Meanwhile I’m off to a game this weekend that, for all its faults - and despite the FFA's attempts to limit the appearance and reality of diversity - is so culturally diverse that to play “Spot the Wog” would be redundant. I’ll leave that to the AFL.