One of the most brilliant collisions between politics and sport – other than Nelson Mandela donning the Springbok shirt at the 1995 Rugby World Cup final, Tommie Smith’s and John Carlos’s Black Panther salute at the 1968 Olympics and every other gesture that actually made a difference – was Boris Johnson’s body-slam tackle on Maurizio Gaudino in a charity football match nine years ago. It was ugly, unlawful and a decent metaphor for the uncomfortable relationship between politics and sport.
Sure, politicians love an opportunity to pontificate on how x, y or z shouldn’t be allowed every time a sporting controversy migrates from the sports pages to the grown-up sections of the media. Like last week in Australia, where Australian rules player Adam Goodes was revealed to be close to giving up the game because of the continued racial abuse he has been subjected to on account of him being Aboriginal.
Tony Abbott, the Australian Prime Minister, has waded into the debate and the captains of the AFL teams have called on fans to lay off the abuse, which had increased after Goodes did a tribal war dance as a celebration after scoring for his side, Sydney Swans.
The whole episode is embarrassing for the sport and the country. Too embarrassing to talk about, it would seem. Because in the preamble to Friday’s AFL match between Richmond Tigers and Hawthorn Hawks, the first fixture since Goodes was revealed to be considering hanging up his boots, the subject was given the most minimal of mentions.
It was a massive own goal (or whatever the Aussie rules version of an own goal is) by the broadcasters. Because for all the opportunist statements put out by politicians, the thing that would grab the most attention of the people the message is aimed at – fans – would be a prime-time, Friday night footy match.
Sure, last Friday’s dust-up was a derby match between two Melbourne sides with their eyes on the upper echelons of the ladder, so there was a lot to cover in the 20 minutes before bounce-off. But there was time for an interview with Brett Deledio of the Richmond Tigers, who was going all gooey over his new baby (“my priorities have changed – I no longer worry about which sock to put on first”, he said).
And there was also ample opportunity for “Richo” (Matthew Richardson) to conduct a stilted Q and A with the Hawthorns coach – who was clearly having a competition with himself to see how many times he could say “really good footy” in three minutes.
The only inkling we got that there was an elephant in the MCG was when the Tigers ran through a large banner displaying an Aboriginal flag and emblazoned with a large slogan – “We stand up for reconcilation. No silent bystanders”– and just before the match started when the commentator made a passing remark on Richmond’s kit. “Wearing their indigenous strip there, showing solidarity with Adam Goodes,” he said.
And that was it. No explanation, no discussion – and certainly no denouncing of the so-called fans who jeered Goodes last week – and probably would have again on Saturday if he had chosen to play against Adelaide. Is it any surprise that prejudice still exists in sport, when so few are willing to broach the subject – even when they have the undivided attention of their target audience?