Australian sport, particularly Australian rules football, has enjoyed a positive place in the public psyche.
It has managed to perpetuate an image of an all-encompassing and all-welcoming environment, a world away from hooliganism and violent crowds often associated in the popular imagination with “soccer”.
The AFL has messages recorded by the captains of each club played before games encouraging their supporters to be passionate, but reminding them that the football arena should be a welcoming one for all supporters and indeed the players.
It seems, however, that when a football player steps out from behind his football guise, this positive story falls away. The criticisms leveled at Sydney Swans' Aboriginal football star Adam Goodes have shown the problems still strongly persist.
Goodes faces booing and jeering at most games played in Melbourne. This year's grand final at the MCG showed that time has not dulled the viciousness of some supporters’ disdain.
Journalist Erin Riley wrote of her experiences at the game, criticising the nature of some fans’ comments. In return, she received her own share of abuse on Twitter.
The abuse consisted mainly of criticisms of her perceived “sensitivity”, profanities and criticisms of her knowledge of football ― as well as that of women in general.
Such a response was unlikely to allay her concerns that supporters referring to Swans players by female pronouns implied that “being female is laughable and weak”.
There remains a vocal minority who question why Goodes famously took exception to called a “fucking ape” by a fan.
There are still those who wish to cut down Goodes ― named Australian of the Year ― for the challenge he lay down when he described silence surrounding John Pilger’s Utopia as “disturbing and hurtful”.
Goodes said that as an Australian, he found such silence over a film that exposes Aboriginal suffering to be “embarrassing”.
To make a man of Goodes’ calibre Australian of the Year is foolish if you were hoping he would not use the position to challenge the status quo. Goodes is a challenger. How else will change be affected but with aid of such people?
The AFL has implemented such initiatives as “multicultural” and “Indigenous” rounds, but without the supporters entering into the spirits of such initiatives, nothing will change.The AFL has a chance to go beyond window dressing if iti s willing to embrace Goodes' challenge.
Going to the football and ignoring prejudice for the duration of a game in favour of tribal supporter bases is one thing. But listening when Goodes urges others to challenge their preconceptions and re-evaluate what they accept, is quite another.
The Andrew Bolts of this world may claim Goodes has let “us” down. But staying silent and not issuing challenges from the platform he has been given would truly be letting people down.