I arrived in Australia last night on a work visit, and channel-surfed the radio on the way into the city to hear only one matter being discussed: Adam Goodes.
For those of you outside of Australia reading this, Adam Goodes is a champion player of the local football code, known as ‘Aussie Rules’. He has won two championships with his club, the Sydney Swans, and he has twice won the code’s highest individual honour for best and fairest player, the Brownlow Medal. Extending beyond sport, in 2014, he was named Australian of the Year for his community work and advocacy against racism.
Adam Goodes is also an Indigenous Australian.
Without raking over the entire story, in a ‘footy’ match more than two years ago, Adam reported a person in the crowd abusing him and yelling out that he was an “ape”. Unknown to him at the time, the person was a 13-year-old girl whom he asked be counselled about the impact of her behaviour.
Fast forward two years to May this year; after a spectacular passage of play that resulted in a goal, Adam did an Aboriginal ‘war dance’. He said at the time, he did it as a tribute to a visiting U16 Indigenous team who had been visiting the Sydney Swans and met with him, to show them his pride in being Aboriginal.
But ever since then, Goodes has been subject to prolonged booing and jeering from opposition fans which culminated last weekend in an Aboriginal team mate, Lewis Jetta, also doing a war dance when he scored. This has erupted into the conflation of two issues this week: what lies beneath the surface of race relations in Australia, especially with our Indigenous population, and what is appropriate fan behaviour.
I’m dumbfounded that a negative connotation can be applied to any sort of indigenous war dance. The All Blacks’ Haka is traditional in rugby and respected by all who watch, regardless of whatever country one originates. For me it is the highlight of any test played by my Kiwi cousins.
Some commentators say that Goodes should just deal with the opprobrium directed at him because that’s what fans do; it has nothing to do with him being Aboriginal. Interestingly, not one person saying that is Aboriginal – it’s mostly people with easy-to-pronounce names such as ‘Andrew’ and ‘Jones’ and ‘Miranda’.
However, Adam Goodes is so upset with the constant barrage directed against him – and the impact on his team mates – that he has taken a leave of absence from his team.
Throw in the fact that Adam Goodes is a ‘first Australian’ and there is an unmistakeable race element also. It was best described in this piece by another Aboriginal man, television presenter Stan Grant.
When it’s got to that point, it’s gone too far regardless of colour, ethnicity or gender. Whether the intention of the booing is racist or not is immaterial; that’s the way that Adam is interpreting it.
Just listening on the radio to the passionate views on either side, two things struck me as an expat who returns home several times a year.
First, by their nature sporting teams encourage tribalism. By joining a club, attending a match, and wearing the shirt or brandishing the scarf, we feel as if we have a ‘right’ to be part of that tribe or club. But with rights, come responsibilities, and the fundamental one is that of a decent, civil society.
Like many of you reading this, I have been at matches of different sports where the crowd lets their feelings be known and heard. It’s acceptable when it’s good-natured and short-lived – for example, shouting out at a player who milks a free kick. It is unacceptable when it goes too far – such as an A-League match in Australia about two years ago when a fan threw beer over a coach simply because he didn’t like him. Just as it is unacceptable for Aussie Rules crowds to be consistently booing Adam Goodes for 17 weeks when there are 35 other players on the field of play who are not subject to the same vilification.
Why can’t we enjoy sport, love our team, and support it passionately, whilst also respecting those from the ‘other side’? It is a metaphor for life which leads to the next point.
Australia prides itself on being a successful multicultural nation. By and large, that is the case. A big factor in our success is because our two biggest migrant groups – from the British Isles and New Zealand who are around 30% of the population – are the dominant culture. The next biggest migrant group is the Chinese at 6%.
Australia’s Indigenous population is 3% of our total population. Yet apparently some feel so threatened when a wonderful sportsman who is a proud Aboriginal does a ‘war dance’, that many of us feel it necessary to harangue him into being unable to play.
That is unacceptable. It impoverishes us as sports fans and as a nation.
It is for this reason, I am proud that SKINS supports another wonderful Aboriginal athlete – rugby league player Jonathan Thurston. To show his solidarity with Adam Goodes, Jonathan will do an Aboriginal war dance at this weekend’s North Queensland Cowboys match, as will another fine Aboriginal athlete Greg Inglis, at his match should they score a try.
I can’t dance, but I’m proud to stand with, celebrate and say thank you to Adam, Jonathan, Greg and any other Indigenous athlete or person. As someone who is not a first Australian, it’s the least I can do.