I’ve worked in professional sport for a long time and I hear crowds booing all the time. They boo when an opposition player plays dirty. They boo when refs make mistakes or are seen to be biased. They even boo their own side when they feel they haven’t given it their all. It’s part of sport and whether it’s a good or a bad thing I think most players and referees accept that it’s part of the game in which they choose to be involved.
What is happening here is different and for those of you who don’t understand that I’ll try and explain it.
We have a former Australian of the Year playing Australian Rules Football celebrating goals with an Australian indigenous war dance and the crowd doesn’t like it. They can’t tell him to “go back to where he came from” or even tell him to “go back to where his parents came from” so they call him a “gorilla” or tell him to go back to the “jungle”. That’s what they are yelling out and the boos are all given in that spirit.
Athletes celebrate when they score points. It’s what makes the game exciting and it has become more frequent in recent times. Look at some of the interesting celebrations we’ve had in so many codes such as football (soccer) and rugby league in this country. I was recently at a women’s volley match between Peru and Columbia and in the 3rd set every time the Peruvians scored a point they started to dance on the court. I think it was a cultural expression – I’m not entirely sure – but all I know is that unless you were South American you’d struggle to dance the way they did! I didn’t hear any boos. Crowds love to see this and even if it was from an opposition team most people still feel it makes the atmosphere exciting.
Watch any of the New Zealand teams perform the haka before a game – clearly aimed at the opposition players. Certainly it can be intimidating and it is an exciting way to express cultural ties. So exciting that all the nonindigenous New Zealanders still perform it with pride. I’ve been working at many football matches where the haka or similar dances are performed in the change rooms by the players before they run out. When I worked at the Rugby Union World Cup in 2003 after the game the Tongan team went up towards the crowd to perform their version much to the delight of the crowd, whether they supported that team or not. I also remember watching a Tonga vs New Zealand rugby match where there were multiple dances before the match – many of them involving spears being thrusted towards the opposition (along with gentler hand dances from the Tongan women!) and whole prematch ritual took about 30 minutes. If they didn’t do that the crowd would be have been disappointed.
Australians tell everyone we have a racially tolerant society and to be fair, things were a lot worse when I was younger and things are a lot worse in many other countries. But the country is far from racially tolerant – the main difference between racism here and overseas is that it is denied here. People say they are not racist but they are, whereas overseas they admit it.
You would have heard about countless studies revealing the difficulty of obtaining employment if you do not have an Anglosaxon name or if your skin is less than fair. Nothing to do with your personal traits, qualifications or your cv. The reason why I got involved in working with sport, and still do is because it celebrates cultural diversity and it gives you an even playing field. That’s all everyone is after – no special favours, but just a fair go like everyone else. I come from a Chinese heritage and I came to Australia when I was 4 years old. I did all my schooling here without any “extra favours” but I know too well that if the bloke next to me has similar qualifications and experience but he has an Anglosaxon name he’ll get the job. Which just means I need to get more qualifications or try harder or offer a better service. I’m not whinging but just telling it how it is. However my experience working in sports such as rugby league and football (soccer) is different. Cultural differences are recognised but everyone is treated on their own merits – players and staff work on an even playing field, despite the colour of their skin. If you can do the job then you’ve got the job. In rugby league they even have cultural nights and kava drinking ceremonies to educate all of us non Islanders. I’ve seen so many teams gather in a circle and pray before a game as is the custom in the Pacific Islands and the whole team will do this regardless of their ethnicity or religious background.
That’s why seeing what is happening to Adam Goodes is distressing. I don’t know the man – never met him, but by all accounts he’s a top bloke. I know you can’t believe the media all the time, but let’s assume that he is a good guy and most mugs in the crowd wouldn’t know any better. He’s not assaulting people off the field, getting in trouble with the police or fighting with IS in the Middle East. So why are they booing. Because we have an Australian Indigenous player celebrating his culture and this doesn’t happen to be white. It just doesn’t fit in with Australian Rules Football.
I hope Australians see the irony in this. I would have expected this sort of behaviour when I was a kid but unfortunately my children are seeing it now. It’s telling them that no matter how hard you try to be a good, decent person you’ll never be as good as most Australians because of your name and the colour of your skin. It’s saying you shouldn’t be proud of your culture and your family because they’re not White Australian - in fact maybe you should be ashamed of it.
I don’t know about you, but I hope in the future my kids see more “war dances” from many different cultures.
As Martin Luther King, Jr said:
" I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
Let's make this happen people.