I am a transplant to Australia, having been born and educated in Canada then lived and worked in London, Hong Kong, the US and New Zealand, the latter for eleven years before moving here in 2005. So I make no claims to expertise when it comes to the AFL code, though I am an avid sports follower and have played a couple of sports at a pretty high level. I love competitive sports. That is my preface for what follows, which are my comments on the Adam Goodes saga and the claims that it is all about racism. You see, I disagree.
Point one: Booing is not in and of itself a sign of racism. Or, as Andrew Bolt would have it, of bullying. That is true even where the crowd is largely Caucasian and the player being booed comes from a different gene pool. In US sports booing happens often. LeBron James, the greatest basketballer currently playing the game was loudly booed in Cleveland for years. That was after he’d left Cleveland for Miami. Racism? Hardly. It was part and parcel of what millionaire sports stars should, and do, expect from opposing crowds, especially after they leave one city for another and rub the noses of the former in it. James understood this. In fact he eventually decided to move back to Cleveland.
So to determine if this Goodes’ thing is all about racism, as virtually all ABC commentators and the preponderance of sports writers claim, ask yourself a few questions. Was it home supporters booing Goodes or opposing supporters? If racism is the core factor you would expect the booing to come from Sydney supporters as much as from opponents’ fans.
And if racism were the core factor, why are the dozens of other AFL players of Indigenous background not being booed? We can come up with answers but none is all that plausible. And are we to suppose that the north-eastern corner of this country, where they are much more keen on rugby, is more tolerant and less racist than the hicks to the west who follow AFL and booed Goodes relentlessly during Sydney’s away-game encounter with the Eagles? I mean that seriously. League supporters haven’t picked out some single Aboriginal star and booed him and him alone. In most of the pathetically weak analysis of this that I’ve read, that League/AFL difference simply cannot be explained (unless Queenlanders are better moral beings than their fellow countrymen — an implausible theory which, as a Brisbane resident, I must admit holds a certain attraction to me.)
Point two. How likely is it that the ten or twenty percent of the population that is jumping up and down and screaming ‘racism’ – including all the usual ABC suspects and most every political commentator – is morally superior to the other 80 percent of Australia’s population? Apparently, after four billion years of evolution, we are to suppose that those working for the ABC etc., have moral antennae that vibrate at a superior frequency to those who attend AFL games. I mention this because you simply cannot get past the sky-high rates of moral preening as those shrieking ‘racism’ fight to display their superior moral credentials to all those poor benighted slobs. This is off-putting generally and downright weird when it is sports writers saying it about the people who indirectly provide them with a living. If you really think this, sports writers, get yourselves other jobs.
Point three. I hate the war-dance crap. If a player did that to me when I was in the crowd I would boo him all through game. If that makes me a racist in your eyes, I can live with it. The deconstructionist attempts to explain this away are bunk. If a sports star pretended to pull a sub-machine gun from his pants and shoot the crowd, I don’t think the ‘this is part of my culture’ defence would convince anyone.
And I am consistent on this. I don’t like the Haka much either, especially the weird convention that opposing teams have to watch. But at least all races and players on the All Blacks perform it. And the new Haka was modified, don’t forget, to get rid of the throat slitting stuff. If your defence of Goodes is that a war dance is good fun, fine. I would not forbid him from doing it (as would be the case with US sports, by the way), but I would expect a multi-millionaire sports star to expect, and live with, the resulting booing.
Last point. As for the incident with the 13-year-old girl, I am mostly on Goodes’ side. Did he live up to Nelson Mandelaesque levels of self-restraint when saying that the kid was the face of racism? No. But then I don’t live up to that Christ-like standard either. Someone called him an ape. Had it been an adult I’d have been perfectly happy to see Goodes clock the guy (on a moral level, if not a legal one). Sure, no one judges kids by the same standards, but Goodes backtracked the next day and I’m not prepared to second-guess him on anything on that front. The real culprits here are the security people who dragged away a young child and interrogated her for hours, and the top brass who then publicised who she was. That wouldn’t have happened to a 13-year-old accused of murder! Personally, I’d fire whoever made these calls.
Yes, that incident probably led to Goodes being named ‘Australian of the Year’. So what? That and all other so-called ‘honours’ are not to be taken seriously. Do I agree with Goodes’ political views? No. But again, so what? I work with legal academics who break overwhelmingly for the left, by more than 6-1 in US studies, and that probably understates the imbalance as it exists here in Australia. But I still like loads of them and socialise with many.
So it strikes me as bizarrely simplistic to say this is all about racism. My guess is that racism is playing only a tiny part of this. The war-dance crap is playing a bigger role. And so is the awful AFL top brass’s handling of it. Oh, and let’s not forget the puke-inducing rush of so many commentators to show off their own supposed moral superiority.
Do you really think Australia is a cesspit of racism? I don’t. If you do, try this little test: Name four countries that are better places in which to live, morally speaking. You name them and I’ll bet I can show their track record is no better than ours.
The ‘racism is everywhere in Australia’ crowd can never cash the cheques they write.
James Allan is Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland and the author of Democracy in Decline