The only thing more baffling than the creation and implementation of the National Club Identity Policy is the apathetic response to it by the general public and media.A Borg-like “resistance is futile” acceptance of what is an insidious white washing of the rich tapestry of our sport has seen the NCIP added to the long list of fait accompli carried out by the governing body, the Football Federation of Australia, since it’s inception. Most decisions in football can be debated and dissected as to how and if it will benefit the sport but the NCIP transcends sport, in fact, it’s not a sporting decision at all it’s a social issue.
We can learn a lot about ourselves as a nation and how far we’ve come since the Immigration Act of 1901 popularly known as the “White Australia policy” by our reaction to the NCIP. Sadly the verdict is not good with many indifferent to the policy and others even supportive of it. Human history is strewn with heinous policies which can be explained but an explanation doesn’t mean they are justified, the ends do not always justify the means.
In 1941, Prime Minister Curtin declared, “this country shall remain forever the home of the descendants of those people who came here in peace in order to establish in the South Seas an outpost of the British race.” It seems that FFA Chairman Frank Lowy – himself an immigrant from the former Czechoslovakia – is determined to finish what our forefathers began through the anglofication of our football clubs and community.
Of course this is not how the policy views itself with the claim it “aims to promote and strengthen the reputation of football in Australia by making the sport of football inclusive for all participants.” Noble sentiments indeed but they don’t really explain why forcing clubs and communities to assimilate is at all justifiable to achieve this. Is placating the insecure amongst us really worth compromising all that the global game stands for?
Chairman Lowy has been beating the anti-ethnic drum for years ensuring that people got the message loud and clear that football’s ethnicity was the great evil holding the game back in Australia.
In July 2006 on Foreign Correspondent, Lowy told Peter Wilkins:
Nothing worked because basically the game was ethnically based and didn’t embrace the Australian population, and until that happened it couldn’t have happened what has happened now. I took a clean slate. I wiped everything that was before – I wiped the debts, I wiped the structure and started afresh.
If you look at the rosters of players, the names, it mirrors Australia. And if you look at the spectators, it mirrors Australia (a misleading statement that will be addressed in a future entry).
On March 3rd 2006, at the inaugural Grand Final at Sydney Football Stadium between Sydney FC and Central Coast Mariners, Frank Lowy told ABC programme AM:
I tried to do the same thing about 20-odd years ago but the people who are running the game at the time were not ready to make a break from the ethnicity of the game.
You could throw a mic in front of Frank and be assured to get the same line that all of football’s woes were down to the ethnics and now he got rid of them football is saved. Blaming ethnicity has always been the fallback position to cover deficiencies in other areas of management and it works for Frank to distance himself from ‘old soccer’.
Speaking at the inaugural Australian Multicutural Council Lecture in Canberra in 2012 he told the attendees, “you are welcome; you are free to worship; you are free to honour your heritage; and we will respect the differences between us.” Obviously this freedom isn’t extended to football and using the world game as a vehicle to honour your heritage.
When people talk about what is Australian and Australian values they usually avoid specifics and this is true with the NCIP too. In fact those who drafted the NCIP are clearly out of touch with Australia’s history and demographics so much so that they deemed it necessary to instill an archaic policy that belongs in the past.
According to the NCIP clubs can have any name or symbol that’s “components do not carry any ethnic, national, political, racial, or religious connotations.”
Well why stop at football clubs? How about the numerous Australian towns, regions and cities with ethnic names? We can start with Adelaide which was named after Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen the German-born wife of William IV. The Adelaide Hills is home to the German named town Hahndorf which is the “oldest surviving German settlement in Australia.”
Surviving is a key word here because these places did come under attack in Australia’s past. In 1917 after World War I the Nomenclature Act changed up to 69 place names which were deemed to “indicate enemy origin.” Fortunately the South Australian Nomenclature Act of 1935 saw Hahndorf (Ambleside), Lobethal (Tweedvale), and Klemzig (Gaza) among others have their names restored. After the hysteria subsided the South Australian government where able to revert to the orginal names and therefore honour the history and heritage of these places. They could’ve easily kept the new names but common sense and a respect for history prevailed.
Along with German names there are places like Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory which shares its name with the Dutch town of Arnhem, Genoa in Victoria and Casino in New South Wales owe their names to Italian origins, Lugarno and La Perouse are Sydney suburbs with names of Swiss and French influence. Littered across the Australian landscape are examples of these non-Anglo influences which indicate that this idea of Australia is much richer and diverse than what the proponents of the NCIP would have us believe.
The NCIP fails in the application too. It is meant to be applied to new clubs or existing clubs that change or alter an existing logo or name. However we’ve already seen inconsistencies such as the foundation of Shamrock Rovers Darwin FC last year. The FFA even did a feature on their website trumpeting their participation in the FFA Cup (the story has since been removed).
It’s great that we have new clubs being formed and participating in this competition as it shows the game is growing but this example appears to violate the NCIP on a few fronts. First, the name is taken from the Irish Premier League club, Shamrock Rovers. Secondly, the emblem has a shamrock on it which is well-known to be a national symbol of Ireland but not just this it’s also a religious symbol representing the Christian faith’s, Holy Trinity. How they were able to slip it through the NCIP and FFA net is a mystery? But it is something I’d love to hear the FFA explain.
Another more recent example was Gwelup Croatia who were founded in 1988 and play in the Western Australia amateur league. Before their clash with Perth SC they were informed by Football West that their name and logo might be a problem if they were to make it to the Round of 32 of the cup competition. The FFA deny it would have been an issue but as Joe Gorman reminded us in his piece for the South Melbourne blog, the year before the FFA made the Australian-Macedonian club Stirling Lions SC remove the Star of Vergina from their jersey before their FFA Cup clash with the Dutch inspired Brisbane Roar. The interesting thing is that Perth SC which is a club of Italian origin and has the word Azzuri on it’s logo was not contacted at all. Azzuri is not an English word and the NCIP stipulates only English words are allowed on logos so why weren’t they contacted?
We’ve seen that despite the initial selling of the NCIP as not being a retrospective policy that this is not by any means set in stone. The FFA confirmed in Joe’s piece that “there are circumstances where existing clubs may trigger the application of the NCIP through it’s conduct.” This ambiguous statement paves the way for the FFA to leave it up to their own discretion of who they go after or deem to be in breach, leaving clubs in a precarious position.
Frank Lowy’s own team Hakoah FC – who compete in the NSW NPL 2nd division – post-NCIP launched a new club logo which clearly has the Star of David on it. We can only wonder what Frank’s FFA makes of this and how it was approved in the first place?
The bottom-line is in all this is, freedom. If an individual is challenged or affronted by the existence of individuals or groups that celebrate their heritage and ethnicity than they are free to dissasociate themsleves from them. If the Italian roots of Adelaide City offend, support Adelaide United. If Sydney Olympic are happy being Sydney Olympic and remain proud of their Greek heritage then they should be free to make that choice even if it risks limiting their appeal. People who don’t want to support them due to their ethnic background can support Sydney FC or Western Sydney Wanderers. The choices and alternatives are there for people in this diverse society of ours that make the NCIP completely unnecessary in 2015.
Many of these ethnic clubs were established by people who fled governments where the freedom to assemble and express themselves didn’t exist. Now sixty years later the fact that their children and grandchildren are faced with the same discrimination is our nation’s shame. The NCIP may claim to not be a retrospective policy but it certainly is a retrograde one.