All sports, boxing being the possible exception, can be hard for the uninitiated to grasp, with the species of football favoured in Australia’s southern states undoubtedly the most challenging of all, even to those with more than the average sum of grey matter. The late William F. Buckley, for one, was so baffled by a contest he chanced upon while surfing US cable TV’s offerings that he adopted the code as a synonym for ‘incomprehensible’, once observing that Bill Clinton’s disregard for propriety and risk in soliciting the Oval Office pleasurings of Monica Lewinsky was even more baffling “than Australian Rules Football.” Whatever footage he saw must have made quite an impression because he used the simile at least several times, as this viewer of his Firing Line TV program recalls.
Such bamboozlement is to be expected among the uninitiated, as many things will strike newcomers to the sport as deeply contradictory. They might, for example, see a player penalised for “holding the ball” when their own eyes have just witnessed him drop it. Likewise, while the code enforces strict penalties for “striking”, players are free to whack each other just so long as they are clenching fistfuls of each other’s jumpers while doing so.
The vigorous jostling and hip-and-shouldering that goes on constantly behind the play is another of the game’s unique traits, one that would inspire a blizzard of red cards in the unlikely event that soccer players, fragile creatures, were ever to adopt the practice. In Victoria, where AFL is akin to a religion, the sport’s theologists will explain that footy has always sought to promote bestial aggression within the bounds of just-this-side-of-civilised restraint. The code’s judiciary might add that even a team going by name of the Saints is apt to be composed of sinners, especially when dwarves and matches are handy.
Of all footy’s mysteries, though, and of all its apparent contradictions, it may be that none can match what visitors to the Sydney Cricket Ground witnessed on the weekend, when St Kilda battled the Swans. The goal umpires waved rainbow flags and players sported rainbow socks. On the telly, the AFL’s gushing arbiters of what is good and wholesome and best for society raved about their Pride Game with an enthusiasm matched only by the Collingwood cheer squad’s appreciation for a nice tattoo.
Yet, as always with footy, the contradiction: the Swans in whose stadium the latest gay game unfolded (to the Saints’ detriment) and over which the rainbow flag flew are sponsored by Qatar Airways, the state-operated carrier of an Islamic kingdom observing all the Koranic injunctions against man-on-man action. Recently, when a gay Qatari wrote pseudonymously in the Doha News of the threats and perils that are part and parcel of being a homosexual in his homeland, the paper was deluged with missives calling down the wrath of Allah. The reader comments thread contains some especially unsettling sentiments, not only about what should be done with homosexuals but also detailing the need to keep women covered, lest straight males be overcome by the instant urge to rut.
Last year’s Pride Match, the first, set the precedent, having been played in Melbourne at Etihad Stadium, owned by the AFL and named after the national airline of United Arab Emirates. Gays fare no better there than in Qatar, a grim fact it is the AFL’s apparent preference not to notice. In this regard the AFL has company. Qantas, led by a gay man, Alan Joyce, who is ardent in his advocacy of same-sex marriage and happy to lose opponent Margaret Court’s patronage as a consequence, is Emirates’ partner. Presumably Mr Joyce and his husband have taken note of this Department of Foreign Affairs advisory and ask for separate rooms when stopping over in Dubai en route to somewhere else.
Sex outside of marriage, and homosexual acts, are illegal. Victims of sexual assault may face criminal prosecution rather than being considered the victim of a crime. Some sexual assault victims have been imprisoned after reporting an incident to local police or upon seeking medical assistance.
What the AFL does notice is abhorrent heterosexuality, having just parted company with two senior execs who engaged in consensual office affairs. The names of those men’s extramarital lovers were dragged into the papers, and Allah only knows what the philanderers’ poor families endured when such soiled sheets were given a public airing.
The AFL seemed quite pleased with itself for coming down hard and loud on men who favour heterosexual dalliances. If only the ousted executives had been canoodling with office boys their lot, bank accounts and kin might today be so much happier.
For more on the oppression of homosexuals in the Gulf and the lengths officials go to in order to detect them, follow this link.
Roger Franklin, Quadrant Online editor, couldn’t care less which foot AFL players favour, just so long those from Whitten Oval kick enough goals to get the Western Bulldogs into the finals