Political football

August 10, 2005

Phil Cleary

They used to say politics and sport don't mix. When I ran for Prime Minister Bob Hawke's federal seat of Wills in 1992 as an independent, my political opponents were full of derision. "Stick to football", they'd say. It escaped them that I had a degree in politics and was a teacher of history and politics. Over the years, the reluctance of sporting heroes to take a stand on political questions has always disappointed me.

So I was surprised when Mick Malthouse told his daughter and thousands of viewers on Channel Ten before the Brisbane versus Collingwood game on July 9 he wanted to take a stand against terror. When he mentioned the dead in Iraq I waited for him to state his position on the invasion. The wait was in vain. The only Iraqis Malthouse mentioned were those who "had their throats cut" in recent times. He obviously wasn't referring to the more than 100,000 innocent men, women and children killed by cruise missiles, shot at checkpoints by uniformed men or claimed by starvation and disease.

Like hundreds of thousands of Australians and millions around the world, I marched against the invasion of Iraq. My four children and their friends were there, too. I didn't believe the invasion would make the world a safer place or was the best way to bring human rights to that country. My position hasn't changed. Malthouse has every right to take a public position on the war on terror. But why didn't Brisbane and Collingwood consider the diversity of views on the origins of terrorism and the solution to it?

After I spoke against the first Gulf War at a public rally outside Prime Minister Bob Hawke's Coburg office in 1991, the president of Coburg Football Club asked that I make a public statement confirming that my views weren't those of the club. He supported the war. I refused to make any such statement.

Unfortunately, politics is not as simple as Mick Malthouse would have us believe. Winston Churchill for example, who Mick described as one of England's greatest statesmen and someone he admires, is no hero of mine.

What he did in sending Australian troops to their death at Gallipoli in 1915 was inexcusable, self-serving and callous. And of course, I also have an Irish heritage and in that heritage they remember Churchill as the man who tricked them into signing a treaty that created a civil war in Ireland in 1921 and helped create Northern Ireland. So why would I want to stand in a v-shaped configuration in tribute to him? I'm sure that Irish-born Brownlow Medallist Jim Stynes, whose relatives fought against the British in the Irish War of Independence, would feel the same.

Why didn't the Collingwood and Brisbane football clubs gather for a minute's silence in the interest of world peace rather than the war on terror? That would have been something we could all embrace. There can be no justification for the killing of innocent people in the London tube, and we shouldn't cower in the face of terrorism. About that Mick Malthouse is right. However, unless we cry for all the innocent men, women and children killed by invading armies, not just the ones we're told are on our side, we don't look all that courageous.

[Phil Cleary payed 205 games in the Victorian Football Association, and is a former independent member of the federal parliament. He currently manages communications at the Electrical Trades Union in Victoria. This article was first published in Inside Football and on his website at <http://www.philcleary.com.au>

From Green Left Weekly, August 17, 2005.
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