My son has just started playing AFL. For the un-initiated, it’s Australian Football, and it’s a magnificent, athletic sport.
Many moons ago, I would regularly go and watch the Brisbane Lions, back when they used to do things like win matches and premierships. The seats we had were next to the ‘general admission’ area, where the visiting team supporters would often sit. A half-metre wide step would separate ‘us’ from ‘them’. Richmond supporters aside, there was always a healthy rivalry. We’d kick a goal, we’d cheer. They’d kick a goal, they’d cheer. The umpire blew his whistle, we’d all boo. After the game, there’d be good-natured ribbing from the winners to the losers. We’d pack our bags, furl our flags and make our way back to the bus.
Do you know what I loved about going to the football? No, it wasn’t the overpriced beer or the warmish hotdogs. It was, believe it or not, watching the football. Watching these young men band together, play together, and hopefully, win together. Brisbane had a collection of players from all over the nation, and from a stack of backgrounds. Queenslanders, Victorians, Western Australians. Whiteys, darkies and everything in between.
One thing I’ve noticed about sport, and Australian sport in general, is that once you put on the team colours, you’re not an individual anymore. You’re part of the team. The club. The family. Anyone who has been to a State of Origin match would know that feeling of donning the blue or maroon, and sitting in a stadium of 50000 likeminded punters. It’s a feeling that you’re part of something much, much bigger than yourself.
I mentioned at the start of this blog that my son has started playing AFL. Now, my particular branch of the Vidins family tree hasn’t been blessed with sporting prowess, so I really hope he gets some of his mother’s athletic ability. I’ll practice hand passes, kicks and catches with him, but I know my ability to teach him is limited.
I hope that as he learns this sport, he learns the physical aspects of the game. I hope he learns to run and hand pass and kick and catch. I hope he learns the field, his team and his coaches instruction.
I hope he learns teamwork, esprit de corps, winning graciously and losing with dignity. I hope he learns fair play, to keep his chin up when he makes a mistake and to be self controlled when the chips are down. I hope he learns that his team is only as strong as he is, and he is only as strong as his team. I hope he learns his strengths, and the strengths of his peers. I hope he learns that just because someone is faster, fitter or stronger than him, it doesn’t detract from his skills or talents. I hope he learns that just because he is faster, fitter or stronger than some of his peers, it doesn’t make him intrinsically better, or them less.
Here’s what I hope he doesn’t learn though. I hope he doesn’t learn that some people need special recognition because of an idea, a belief or a characteristic they hold, are or subscribe to. I hope he doesn’t learn that the different kid in the team needs to be treated differently because he likes boys, or his family pray to a different god, or his skin isn’t the same as the rest of the guys. I hope he sees the game of footy for what it is – a game, and enjoyable pastime, an opportunity to mix it up with the boys on an even field, where teamwork, dedication, skills, ability and hard work are rewarded and upheld.
You may know what I’m eluding to here. The AFL recently held a ‘pride game’ between Sydney and St Kilda. Players wore rainbow-inspired team colours, and umpires had rainbow inspired flags. The idea, from what I could see, was to make GLBTI people feel more welcome and included in the game.
Interestingly, and inversely, the ALF also have diversity traineeships, specifically for young Muslims to gain workplace skills in administration within the AFL. Side fact, did you know sodomy is illegal in every Islamic country, with most attaching the death penalty to such convictions?
My son has recently started playing AFL. I hope he learns to treat his team, and the individuals in his team, regardless of their background, ideals, identity or colour with respect and dignity. I hope he treats opposing teams with determination, tenacity and with pride, knowing he has executed an honest game plan, and with honest gameplay. I hope he learns to give everyone a go. To encourage his team mates to achieve their highest and to have the same high expectations across the team.
I hope my son learns that he can only control one person, and that’s himself. I hope he learns that he can be a positive influence on his team, that he plays his hardest, with honesty and integrity.
My son just started playing AFL. It could be worse. He could be playing soccer.