Take this week’s #EraseRacism round in the A-League with a pinch of salt.
Actually, maybe with the same amount of salt that you’d find on the salt flat of Lake Eyre in South Australia.
While the sentiment, message and outcomes of this harmony-focused round may be admirable, there was a policy introduced in 2014 by Football Federation Australia (FFA) that undermines their #EraseRacism movement.
It is known as the National Club Identity Policy (NCIP) and was introduced as a document to make sure every club in Australia affiliated with FFA followed the same rules with regard to club names, logos, messaging and sponsorship.
However, it has done the exact opposite – it has enraged many of the sport’s older guard in this country – particularly those with ties to former NSL clubs or state teams which have particular ethnic affiliations.
The NCIP makes it illegal for any new clubs or existing clubs (wanting to alter their logo/name) to have any “ethnic, national, political, racial or religious connotations either in isolation or combination” in their name, logo or emblems.
It is the banning of ethnic or national connotations that has angered many.
There is even an ongoing legal battle before the Australian Human Rights Commission between FFA and Melbourne Knights (formerly Melbourne Croatia) because of it, due to them being banned from having the ‘Melbourne Croatia Social Club’ sponsor their FFA Cup jerseys.
There has already been a raft of these kinds of rulings over the years, most recently during the NSL days when teams were forced to whittle away what was left of ethnic ties in their names or logos.
Even at state level there has been a gradual movement to Anglicise names. I used to play for Williamstown Mladost Soccer Club, who are now known simply as Williamstown SC. ‘Mladost’ means youth in slavic languages and reflects the Serbian heritage of the club.
Australian soccer used to be full of teams like this, with names including Melbourne Croatia, South Melbourne Hellas, St George Budapest, Brunskwick Juventus, Adelaide Juventus, Canberra City Olympians, Melita aka Parramatta Eagles and Eastern Suburbs Hakoah.
And yet Melbourne Victory’s colours are the white and blue of Scotland while their official club theme song is to the tune of Scotland the Brave. Where does that fall under the NCIP?
There is also the case of Brisbane Roar. The license for the club was handed to a consortium headed by the Queensland Lions Club in 2005. That club was formed in the 1950s as Hollandia-Inala by Dutch immigrants. The Dutch link is still clear today with the club’s colours being Holland’s Oranje, and their logo has a lion in it.
The FFA declined to answer several questions put to them by The New Daily this week in regards to the NCIP. What they did say is that the policy is designed to make the sport of football more inclusive for all participants.
Their point of view is that a club presented as ‘Croatian’ or ‘Greek’ or ‘Italian’ closes itself off from appealing to people of all ethnicities – particularly at the junior level where most of these new clubs will spawn.
That makes no sense to me or to many others. I have Italian parents and I’m an Australian citizen, but I played for a Serbian, Italian and then Greek club in my junior years.
Many of my teammates had similar stories. Junior participation in Australian soccer is high and to be so scared of ethnically warding them off that such a policy is passed is simply alarmist by FFA.
The league is also worried that what was ‘perceived’ as being wrong in the troubled days of the NSL could happen again.
They appear to share the misconception that ethnic tension and outward displays of racial pride were the causes of the league’s crowd trouble and subsequent financial woe.
While crowd violence was troubling, race is not to blame.
The stupidity, petulance and lack of decency in people who think fighting and abusing others at a football match is acceptable was to blame for crowd trouble – just as it is now (with no ethnic symbols in the A-League).
You can see why this policy angered so many affiliated with the older clubs, but also people who care about the history of Australian football and the fact it is a game so many immigrants enjoy.
From the English and Scottish who brought it here pre-Federation, through to the post-war Europeans who used them as social clubs or ‘homes away from home’, there needs to be more respect and maturity shown in FFA’s policy.
Just because a club name or logo has a nation’s colours, symbol or emblem in it should not be a deterrent for someone wanting to enrol their child.
And if it is, they’re the kind of people soccer doesn’t want.