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You’ve got to love the FFA Cup. 

Proud, grassroots clubs getting another crack at glory on the national stage; more ‘David vs Goliath’narratives than you can poke a souvlaki stick at; and ethnic communities reliving the glory days of old, where football was more than a weekly pilgrimage —an adhesive, bringing together diasporas more successfully than any laws could legislate. 

Yet, there is one aspect of the Cup which does not sit well. 

In the previous two rounds, FOX Sports have had express food orders from the suburban grounds —Macedonian kebapi from Rockdale City Suns, and Serbian cevapi from Bonnyrigg White Eagles. 

Of course, these cultural tidbits should be celebrated. Yet, when such scenes are broadcast to national audiences, in the backdrop of the FFA’s National Club Identity Policy (NCIP) and its endeavours to rid the game of ethnic totems, they are tokenistic at best —while offensive and tone deaf at worst.

For context, the FFA introduced the NCIP in 2014 to “promote and strengthen the reputation of football in Australia by making the sport of football inclusive for all participants.” According to the policy, the FFA “respects Clubs’desires to acknowledge their heritage …[but] FFA has a responsibility to protect and grow the reputation of the sport of football in Australia and to ensure its openness and accessibility to all Australians.”

May I make one thing clear before I continue: I am not blaming FOX Sports or any media outlets for the way they broadcast the game in the A-League era —I acknowledge there have been attempts by some channels to kill the game during its National Soccer League incarnation, but these are peripheral to the forthcoming article. 

The crux of my frustration lies in the FFA’s consistency: in one breath, they hinder clubs from expressing their ethnic history, while in the other, the FFA remain silent when such historical, national narratives are used in the media to make the game more appealing. 

Examples of the NCIP include Avondale FC having to tape over the Italian flag on the back of their jerseys. In years gone by, clubs such as Melbourne Croatia, St George Budapest, Bonnyrigg Avala and other teams have had to drop their ethnic monikers. 

I understand the NCIP’s scope to ban overt references in a club’s name. When Rockdale City Suns hosted Sydney FC in the FFA Cup earlier this month, Rockdale’s active supporters flew a large flag depicting a Macedonian national hero. Likewise, during Sydney United 58’s 4-0 loss to Sydney Olympic last week at Lambert Park, some of the SUS Boys’paraphernalia were emblazoned with za dom spremni —'For the home, ready'. It's a matter of FIFA policy that olitical gestures have no place in football, particularly when they arouse animosities of bygone eras. We could argue ad nauseam about football’s role as a conduit for political and social movements. 

However, the FFA could perhaps use its discretion to reconcile old and contemporary football —to allow clubs to express somehomage their pasts. For example, does Avondale FC’s Italian flag, less than a few square inches at the top of the collar, really hinder the “openness and accessibility [of the game] to all Australians”? 

If so, why are Hakoah Sydney City East FC allowed to keep Hakoah (meaning ‘the strength’in Hebrew) in their name? Furthermore, Hakoah’s emblem contains a stylised Star of David. Is this not a reference to their past, where they were founded by post-WWII migrants and refugees and served as a transition point for people of the Jewish faith?

To reiterate, I am not necessarily against these small gestures. It seems the FFA’s inconsistent interpretations, rather than clubs’ethnic gestures, have sullied the NCIP’s credibility.

The NCIP may have been relevant during the inception of the A-League in 2005. Decades prior, the NSL there were examples of hooliganism ostensibly along ethnic lines. National —or, according to the media, nationalist —paraphernalia was rife, and teams served their ethnic diasporas, rather than their geographic communities. I understand the need to create a product to which all fans could relate.

But 13 years later, is football ready to have ethnic pasts coexist with contemporary fanbases? I believe it is, in which case couldn't the FFA find a happy medium?

Last week, The Newcastle Herald reported Charlestown City Blues lodged a racial discrimination complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission. The club are trying to reclaim the word ‘Azzurri’ in their name —a homage to their Italian roots. Charlestown City have garnered more than 100 signatures and are lobbying their local MPs to fight what they see as their right to express themselves. The club has indicated it is prepared to take the issue as high as it needs to go. 

This, along with the workings of the Congress Review Working Group and the impending toppling of the current FFA Board, is a glass doors moment for football in Australia. 

If Charlestown are successful, we may see more clubs pushing the boundaries to display totems of their ethnic pasts. Should they fail to overturn the ruling, however, I fear clubs will continue to operate within the current purgatory —an ambiguous nexus where FOX Sports commentators can constantly reference the smells of their favourite ethnic cuisine, yet cannot include a name like Azzurri or display national symbols at suburban grounds. 


Categories: Opinion | Football Life | Local

ncip, cultural diversity, charlestown city blues, ffa cup

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