The relationship between sport, politics and social values has undergone an extraordinary transformation in the past decade or so.

Just what does sport have to do with smoking, breast cancer, motor neurone disease, alcohol consumption, domestic violence and mental health?

Add race, gender, age, religion, disability and social status for good measure.

A relationship implies cause and effect: that sport and its inherent, positive values can influence the thoughts, feelings, behaviour and belief systems of the general public, with the advocacy of its role models and ambassadors.

There was a time when the ordinary fan could simply go to a game and support their team, free of the encumbrances of society and its pervasive ills, to seek refuge and an escape from the social consciousness and by extension, their own.

No more. The opposite is now the norm. But are we pushing the moral message too far, or not far enough?

The debate continues, with some fans criticizing the AFL for being “too awake”, while others insist the league must continue to push for inclusive initiatives such as pride rounds and anti-racism measures.

The AFL Fans’ Association released its annual survey, with most respondents indicating they were concerned that the league was not focusing or prioritizing the right things.

Typically, the group’s annual survey revealed that the issues fans were concerned about most included the game-day experience, gameplay, rule changes, officiating and frustrations with ticketing.

However, it seems that fans are now thinking more and more about social issues and how they manifest themselves in football; be it racist behavior, social initiatives like pride rounds, or concerns about the prominence of gambling.

Surely, this is a good thing. That the individual is thinking much deeper about issues that previously were not even on the radar of awareness.

It seems, however, that not all fans are willing to adopt a new position of accountability.

Fans were divided on whether sport and social values should occupy the same space in their collective consciousness.

Swans fans cheered for their side last year during the club’s annual Pride clash against the Saints, but there is yet to be a league-wide round.

Many fans believe the league should do more to combat racism in the game and overwhelmingly said clubs should conduct an internal review of their treatment of indigenous players.

The prevalence of racism and the reduction of homophobia were the two key issues that many fans said concerned them.

66 percent of those polled thought the AFL could be doing more to combat racism, while 59 percent of fans wanted to see an annual round of Pride.

Worryingly, just under half (47 per cent) of all fans have witnessed racist comments directed at a player, and the fact that 69 per cent of those surveyed believed their club needed a deal review. to indigenous players it highlights how far the game is. it has yet to come when it arrives.

But not everyone said that the two main social issues being discussed in footy concerned them, or that they should even be discussed.

“There is also concern over qualitative feedback that there is too much emphasis on the ‘woke agenda’ and some fans are even questioning why questions on these topics are being included in the fan poll,” an AFL Fans Association spokesperson said.

Indeed, many fans believed that the league and clubs should distance themselves from social issues, ranking the inclusion last of the six issues clubs should be concerned about.

“Football is a place of inclusion and belonging and there is absolutely no place for racism in our game at any level. Ever. Everyone involved in football, including the fans, has a role to play in fighting racism and defamation in football and in the broader community,” AFL social policy manager Tanya Hosch stated.

“No one in our game or in the community deserves to be discriminated against and vilified because of their faith or race and there is simply no excuse for it.”

When it comes to trying to combat homophobia and smearing of gay people, while fans are essentially divided on the concept, the league is considering a round of Pride.

After the ‘Manly Seven’ saga debacle that was one of the NRL’s biggest controversies last season, clubs and the league are throwing out a rainbow jumper in a hurry.

The Swans and St. Kilda, on the other hand, through their annual Pride match, have been introducing educational programs and using rainbow initiatives, with captain Callum Mills even criticizing Manly at the time for not being an inclusive club.

While Hosch has said the league is potentially open to a Pride round, there were no immediate plans to host one.

Part of that, no doubt, is the fact that fans concerned about the so-called ‘wake up agenda’, who want the league to focus only on soccer, will turn away even further.

And the abuse, discrimination and homophobia could even get worse, if it plays out like the Manly or NBL scandals.

Pound2Play, an LGBTQI+ sports inclusion body, says “a lot more work needs to be done” before the AFL can consider a round of Men’s Pride, and fans may need to be convinced too.

It seems that problems have already arisen in the policy.

The Star of David was displayed prominently behind the goals for the Round 1 clash at Marvel Stadium in support of North Melbourne’s young Jewish star Harry Sheezel.

But the national flag upset some fans at the game, including North Melbourne supporters, who stressed the league needed to be vigilant when it came to protecting itself from political issues and religious movements.

Under the AFL’s ticket and entry conditions, patrons must not “wear or otherwise display commercial, political, religious or offensive signage or logos of any kind”

Earlier, an AFL security lead Alistair Meldrum responded to a supporter’s email, stating the flag should have been removed.

“Once identified, it should then have been requested to be seized/confiscated or the patron in possession requested to leave if they refused to surrender the flag,” the email read.

“This has been communicated to MSL Venue Management.”

Confusion reigned, until the AFL offered an explanation, if not an apology.

“An AFL match day is a place for everyone, we want fans to celebrate their clubs and players, and if that includes displaying national flags that amplify any of their team’s player heritage then the AFL is fully supportive. We should celebrate our players and the game any chance we get,” the statement read.

“For clarity, the AFL has no issue with the flag and signs supporting North Melbourne’s Harry Sheezel on the weekend. Correspondence sent to a patron that had an issue with the flag being displayed was an incorrect interpretation of our conditions of match day entry policy and we apologise for any confusion.

“The AFL is proud of (its) diverse and wide-ranging backgrounds, faiths, and origins of all our players and encourage fans to continue to celebrate it accordingly.”

Presumably, this will also apply if a Russian or Palestinian player is drafted into the system, irrespective of politics and any opposition.


Images via Herald Sun

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