Here’s a deal. If we must take politics out of our sport, can we please take sport out of our politics?
No more serving prime ministers up on the podium to hand out the trophy. No more ex-prime ministers in the Cricket Australia box. No more local members holding the No.1 members’ ticket at our football clubs and stalking the hill for flesh to press and cameras to pose for. No more front-page Wallabies scarves and Origin bets. No more pollies having beers at the footy. No more ‘any boss who sacks anyone today for not turning up is a bum’. No more thunder-stealing speeches in Parliament.
No more speeches means no more funding bills in Parliament? No more government picking up the bill for minority, non-commercial sports? No more Olympic gold? No more public funds for kids’ sport? No more premiers handing over money to build and knock down and rebuild stadiums? No more taxpayers subsidising public transport to venues? No more taxpayers subsidising everything in sport that doesn’t turn a buck, and even some things that do?
Oh, you mean take political issues out of sport. No more statements about same-sex marriage, we’ve had it up to here, whether it’s from players or their governing bodies. No more players disrespecting their national anthem by exploiting the opportunity to make statements about discrimination. No more black power fists, no more rainbow wristbands. No more boycotts. No more goddamn coloured ribbons.
Another deal. If we must take issues out of sport, can we please take sport out of our issues?
Does no more goddamn coloured ribbons mean no more coming together in sport to raise funds for causes? No more using sporting events to raise awareness about cancer or dementia or Parkinson’s or homelessness or depression or youth suicide? No more lifesavers standing on street corners with buckets for a gold-coin donation? No more corporate and charity golf days? If no more issues are mixed into sport, does that mean no more community? And if no more community, does that also mean no more sponsors? If no more sport to boost awareness of brain cancer, does that mean no more sport to boost awareness of KFC? So no more professional sport, no more higher, faster, stronger? And if no more goddamn coloured ribbons – a reminder of life and sickness and misfortune and death and other non-Saturday afternoon issues – does that also mean no goddamn black armbands?
I get it. You don’t want people talking about stuff when they should be talking about the game. Sport is about sport. Everyone focus on the ball, the field, the colours, the players, the score. No more of this goddamn talking about stuff.
If we must take the talking about stuff out of sport, can we please take the sport out of our stuff?
So: no more talking about gay stuff. Can that also mean no more teammates calling teammates (taunting-lovingly) or opponents (taunting-hatefully) a fag? No more suspicion of the guy who never seems really interested in pulling chicks when he bloody well should? No more arse pranks in the post-game showers? No more making young men and boys feel that if they don’t conform to every behaviour of the dominant clique, then they aren’t a team player? No more bonding sessions? No more elevating heterosexual conquests into feats deserving a best and fairest if not a Victoria Cross? No more ‘when men were men’? No more straightening out poofy boys until they’re either a Chop King or they can piss off out of the club? No more this sport will make a man of you? No more sporting virtues?
No more fans and online heroes bringing their stuff to insult players and officials?
That’s a hell of a lot of talking about stuff to separate from sport, if you want the sport separated from the stuff.
That’s a hell of a way to look at sport in the first place.
Here’s another deal. Sport, sports people and sporting organisations can stop talking about the stupid same-sex marriage survey when Ian Roberts stops being the only goddamn out gay footballer. Colin Kaepernick can stop using football to promote racial equality when football stops using him to promote a brand of shoe.
I don’t have a view on whether the AFL, the NRL or the AOC, David Pocock or Israel Folau want to support one side of a vote or not. It’s a free world. What I do have a view on is that Ian Roberts, Ian Thorpe, Dan Kowalski, Matt Mitcham and Matt Helm are pretty much the only Australian elite sportsmen who have felt safe enough to declare their sexuality, in some cases after retirement. Women’s sports have long been much more tolerant of sexuality than men’s, which says a lot more about the types of people who play than the types of people who play, if you know what I mean. For too many, it’s not a free world at all.
So when it comes to politics, it’s not about this stupid survey and that stupid national anthem and who makes public statements about what side they’re standing on and who stays silent. In the real world which is the real sporting world, politics isn’t about a vote. Politics is about what happens next year and the years after in these clubs and teams and families and communities, about boys and girls who stay involved in sport because their difference from the conformist model no longer casts them out. If you want politics out of your sport, attack that guy with a solid tackle when he’s running past you with the ball; stop attacking him with a sticker on his locker, a comment behind his back, a gutless joke on his Facebook page. If you really want politics out of your sport, beat that guy on the field, don’t drive him off it.
For all of those sporting bodies, wherever they stand on an issue, the vote is the least important part. The NRL might feel a warm glow to have taken a side, but it hasn’t achieved anything until Ian Roberts is one of many openly gay men to have played their code in Australia. What’s worse – that there are others who are not allowed to be comfortable with who they are, or that so many of those who were uncomfortable in the sport left it? Shame is such a strong part of this discussion; it’s just that the wrong people are feeling it.
So yes. No politics in sport, no sport in politics. No issues, no stuff, no talking. Separate the sporting world from the world of humans. No more goddamn Yes. We’ve all had it. But we won’t be able to rest until we realise that it doesn’t begin and end in a vote, and it isn’t about yes and no. It’s about you and me.