Several decades ago, I remember a jingle on the radio that seemed to capture what it was to be Australian.
The song was something to do with “Meat pies, Holden cars and Aussie Rules”.
It must have been from an era when there was little Asian or European food on the national menu; Japanese and Korean cars had not arrived in their thousands, and the A-League (soccer) and basketball had not risen to prominence.
I must confess I now avoid meat pies (too much fat) and I drive a Japanese car. I still, however, am a footy fan, a Dockers tragic.
At its best, Australian Rules football is exciting, highly skilled and very competitive.
Americans sometimes marvel that our footballers wear no helmets or shoulder pads and they are in awe of the speed and fierceness of the contest. Aussie Rules is now a national game and Australian Football League (AFL) crowds are growing, with new stadiums being built.
This Australian sport is now being exported to other countries. The recent introduction of a women’s elite competition suggests that Australian Rules football is ruling the sporting spectrum in Australia. Apart from tinkering with a few rules what could possibly be wrong this increasingly popular sport?
Last weekend yet again, we witnessed a major flaw in this gladiatorial game.
The problem with Aussie rules is its leniency towards acts of violence.
Throwing a punch, shirt fronting and spiteful bumps are often seen as an acceptable part of the game.
Frequently, I hear a television commentator observing an act of uncalled for physical aggression as “being part of the game”.
As one coach put it, ”they are not playing table tennis out there”. When someone has blood streaming from their face or lies motionless on the ground, commentators say things like “there was not much in it”. In others words the player has not been stretchered off, so a bit of push and shove is acceptable. Rarely do they call out violence?
Yesterday on the radio, a veteran coach admitted that often opposition players were “targeted”.
In other words, permission was given to players to inflict violence on a key player so that his influence on the game would be minimalised.
This great game is being spoilt by a tolerance towards violence.
The worse that can happen to an offending player during the game is that his name is taken by the umpire. Yes, a tribunal hearing may follow; he may even miss a few weeks or be ruled out of the Brownlow medal, but this is clearly not a sufficient deterrent.
In other sports, you are ejected from the game, forced to sit on the bench and face very serious consequences on and off the field.
In Australian rules, you can behave like a thug and still remain on the playing field.
We have way too much violence in Australia.
Domestic violence is one of the greatest challenges we face to the well-being of women and children and our social fabric.
As Australian novelist Tim Winton recently pointed out, men in particular sometimes think the best way to resolve conflict is with their fists.
Sport can play such a positive role in our community, but sport and violence should never be found together. It’s time for the administrators of the game to adopt a zero tolerance policy towards violence.
The rules need changing so that sport remains highly competitive and skilled, but not violent.
Rev Steve Francis