Ray Hadley’s stoush with CEO of Football Australia James Johnson represents the ongoing media bias against football that is present within the Australian broadcasting world. In the wake of a violent brawl that erupted at a New South Wales National Premier League game between Sydney United 58 and Rockdale Ilinden FC, Hadley seems to believe that “You can’t be representing people who come from Croatia or Macedonia”.
He uses anecdotal evidence of a football fan supporting Western Sydney Wanderers over Sydney United, and takes this as a gospel, uniform opinion of all football fans in the country, going as far as saying that any changes to the Club Identity policy are “a step back in the eyes of most football fans” based on this testimony. What is clear however is that Hadley is no fan of football, and has very little knowledge of the game or its history. The Crawford report that he cites in his rant against the FA, who he says is now subservient to the clubs, recommended that the NSL should be “allowed to operate as a stand-alone body with its own board and constitution, and able to set its own rules and regulations, with the NSL clubs as members”, something Mr. Lowy, a businessman “with acumen and connections”, never allowed in his tenure at Football Federation Australia.
The Crawford report, commissioned by the federal government, doesn’t suggest that ethnicity is a major issue within the game and instead focuses on the governance issues that had plagued football in Australia before the creation of the A-league. To cite the Crawford report as supportive of his views regarding ethnic names within football contributing to violence is intellectually dishonest and factually incorrect. The Report argued that an Australian professional football league should be independently run with representation from the clubs, something that hadn’t been achieved until last year. While Frank Lowy did a lot for the game, ignoring this recommendation has set the league back by a decade. Steven Lowy, his son who succeeded at the FFA, wasn’t torpedoed from the job like Hadley claims, instead he resigned when it became clear that the clubs would take control of the A-league in 2018.
Johnston held strong in his belief that this violence had nothing to do with an ethnic influence, a view supported currently by New South Wales police. Hadley however won’t be able to see that, as he has already decided that the changes to the Club Identity Policy are to blame. It is easier to blame the ethnic narrative that has been presented by those in the media for decades. As Johnson pointed out in an interview with Stephen Cenatiempo on 2CC, there are no ethnic tensions between Macedonia and Croatia. The brawl that occurred was caused by anti-social behaviour by a small minority of fans, rather than any greater ethnic issue. Hadley would like to blame the ethnicity of the clubs instead of recognising the issues that are present within all codes of the game, including his own rugby league.
Multiculturalism is a strength of Australian football. It is part of the identity of the game, allowing us to speak a common language and unite us through the love of the sport. When media personalities regurgitate talking points that are reminiscent of xenophobia, we should defend the game as the uniting force between different cultures it represents. The brawl at the Sydney United vs Rockdale Ilinden FC wasn’t the work of some race war between Macedonians and Croatians, but instead the work of a small minority of attendees who partake in anti-social behaviour at the disadvantage of the clubs and their fans.
The easily debunked arguments made by Hadley are nothing new to those storied to the history of the game in Australia. They are a damaging force that attempts to separate us on our differences, instead of uniting through our passion and love for the game that we share.