The AFL tries to move beyond the Adam Goodes incident with a broader reach at the upcoming Multicultural Round
With recent controversy surrounding the AFL establishment’s handling of the Adam Goodes saga, it is clear that though the institution is trying to endorse the game among the wider Australian community, there remains a need to change public perception about acceptable fan behaviour and just who the game is “for”.
Sport plays an undoubtedly huge role in what many, especially the media, describe as the Australian national identity. Incorporating ‘multiculturalism’ within the various sporting codes can be seen from two distinct viewpoints: as a marketing tool designed to win a broader sporting code turf war in terms of fan engagement and participation rates, or a genuine ideological recognition of the changing demographics of Australian society and the ability to use sport as a bridge between cultures. The AFL Multicultural Round, which began in 2005, is probably a little bit of both.
Recognising the changing face of Australia, it appears the AFL has been making a concerted effort for some time to include people of a multicultural background within both the on-field and managerial levels of the sport as well as in terms of fan involvement.
According to the AFL, they have developed a range of resources under the auspices of the Multicultural Program to identify barriers to involvement and develop strategies to create an inclusive environment for those from Indigenous backgrounds and culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities.
The AFL proclaims: “Australian Football has the extraordinary power to bring people together regardless of background. Everything’s possible when we unite through the love of the game.”
As part of a strategy to strengthen diversity in the game, the AFL Multicultural Program has 10 Multicultural Development Officers (MDOs) based in Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia, as well as a Community Ambassador Program, designed to further engage targeted CALD communities.
In the AFL player cohort, 15 per cent are players of a multicultural background. In 2015 there are 12 players, representing 11 AFL clubs, who have taken on the role of Multicultural Program Ambassador.
Hawthorn dual Premiership player Paul Puopolo, Essendon’s David Zaharakis, Gold Coast Sun’s Nick Malceski, and Brisbane Lions’ James Aish joined current Australia Post AFL Multicultural ambassadors Nic Naitanui, Bachar Houli, Jobe Watson, Alipate Carlile, Stephen Coniglio, Jimmy Toumpas, Lin Jong and Patrick Karnezis in promoting the game.
The 2015 Multicultural Round
This year’s Multicultural Round will be held during Round 19 of the Premiership Season, over the weekend of 7-9 August. The AFL footballs, traditionally marked with the locally-made iconic Australian brand name Sherrin, will be transformed. Synonymous with AFL for over a century, footballs used in the Round will carry the name Sherrin translated into Hindi, Mandarin or Arabic.
The rebranding of the official AFL match balls will be complemented by the word ‘umpire’ being translated into seven languages and printed on the back of official shirts, while the 50m lines on the grounds will be marked to reflect a different language theme at each venue. All matches will also be broadcast in the corresponding language.
Speaking your language
Greek: Adelaide v Richmond (Adelaide Oval)
Hindi: Collingwood v Carlton (MCG) and St Kilda v Fremantle (Etihad Stadium)
Mandarin: Western Bulldogs v Port Adelaide (Etihad Stadium) and Melbourne v North Melbourne (MCG)
Vietnamese: Brisbane Lions v Gold Coast (Gabba)
Italian: West Coast v Hawthorn (Domain Stadium)
Spanish: Geelong v Sydney Swans (Simonds Stadium)
Arabic: GWS v Essendon (Spotless Stadium)
For the first time, this year the AFL has also partnered with the Victorian Government to host the ‘Many Cultures, One Game’ Multicultural Festival. Held at Yarra Park in Melbourne on 8 August, the festival will take place ahead of the Collingwood v Carlton match at the MCG. Designed to be a family day out, the event will feature entertainment, food stalls and free activities.
“As Australia continues to change and welcome new communities – so must the AFL, and through partnerships with community and Government, we can continue to be part of bringing people together, building social capital and acceptance,” said AFL General Manager Clubs and AFL Operations Travis Auld.
The Dosti (Friendship) Cup
Now an annual event, the Dosti (Friendship) Cup is played between an Indian and Pakistani side, exemplifying the healing power of sport.
This year the Bharat Bombers and the Pakistan Shaheens will meet on 29 August.
After a friendly match held in July, the players came together and shared a meal, banter and fun.
“Both teams played in great spirits with many acts of sportsmanship shown on the night,” Essendon’s Multicultural Development Officer Salim Mahazi said. “The umpires did a fantastic job and everyone involved really showed a great appreciation for the work the club is doing within both the Indian and other surrounding multicultural communities.”
The Pakistan Shaheens won the match comfortably (84-36).
“The Shaheens were the better team on the night, but it was definitely a good learning curve for our boys to find out where we are at and what we need to work on,” Essendon’s Indian Content Producer and Coach of the Bharat Bombers Amandeep Singh said.
“We will go back to the drawing board and look to come out firing on the next time we meet.”
Embracing India with Essendon
During the 2014 off-season, a contingent of Essendon Football Club players and staff travelled to India to work with AFL India and to support disadvantaged children. One of the Melbourne AFL clubs of choice for the diaspora Indian community, Essendon has shown dedication to building relationships with India and a desire to better understand the country’s culture.
Players Joe Daniher, Dyson Heppell, Zach Merrett and David Zaharakis spent 10 days in New Delhi and Kolkata. A recent documentary about their experiences screened on Fox Footy and is also available to watch online on ‘Bomber TV’ as part of their dedicated ‘India Content Hub’.
“As a club we’ve been doing a lot of work with the Indian community, the kids and the parents certainly love their footy and are passionate about Essendon so I think it’s important to learn more about their culture and history,” Dyson Heppell said.
Though India is more commonly linked with cricket, the efforts of AFL India to increase the popularity of the game are slowly changing the country’s sporting landscape.
“We did not expect to see the skills that they had,” Joe Daniher said, reflecting on the special skills clinics the players conducted. “Obviously a few of them have seen a footy before, but a lot of them love soccer and I guess they have the kicking element but we were really surprised by the skills of both the boys and girls.”
As part of the documentary launch, Essendon Football Club held a special Embracing India Week full of cultural activities. The ‘Bombers’ visited the Cragieburn Auskickers (junior AFL players) for an evening of footy practice, had a feast at the local Gurdwara Temple, officials held an Indian-inspired morning tea, and players were treated to traditional curries after weights training! Culminating in a ‘Super Saturday’ fans were treated to Indian music, drummers on the dhol, Indian cuisine, a demonstration of Kabbadi and more in celebration of the Club’s association with India. The game was broadcast in Punjabi, and even Bollywood star Bobby Deol came by to the match!
The special banner produced for their India Week Game Day, created by international student volunteers of the GLoBALL program, was emblazoned with the words, “Respect the Opposition, Respect the Umpires, Respect Each Other’.
Given the recent furore surrounding the AFL, let’s hope all fans and players hold these words in special significance.