There is an old saying that sport and politics should never mix … but that’s not quite true
With football on the cusp of returning, Yokayi Footy has done an amazing job engaging the audience with no football being played. This week we shake off the COVID-19 blues and talk with Nicky Winmar about his legacy in light of the Black Lives Matter campaign and Steve Hocking about Return to Play and the cultural health of the code.
There is an old saying that sport and politics should never mix. Seemingly, there is a truth in this as sport for many is seen as the space where two opponents meet to determine a winner. Sport is perceived as a noble pursuit and conversely politics is seen as grubby. But sport and politics have always been entangled despite our resistance to the notion.
The reason for this is that sport is a microcosm of society as it draws down on all the human drama, pathos and complexity that is prevalent in the world. Hence sport and politics collide constantly forcing us to hold issues up to the light and see them for what they are or are not. This is what Yokayi Footy has done for 12 weeks.
Hosts Tony Armstrong and Bianca Hunt have weathered the most perfect football storm for 12 weeks and the relief in their opening monologue was palpable. Each week, in the absence of the game, they have discussed subjects that impact upon Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, communities and players who play our great game. This has meant discussing themes and issues that are not the usual fare for footy shows. These have included racism, suicide, identity, gender and child removal. They have foregrounded the importance of healing and Reconciliation while unpacking what it means to be an Indigenous Australian when it comes to sombre national celebrations like Anzac Day.
The main studio guest for this week was ex-Saints star, Nicky Winmar. Winmar bantered with the hosts about how he has dealt with the isolation period and how he thinks the game will look going forward. He then unzipped his jacket to reveal the face of the deceased African American man George Floyd and then took the knee. For Winmar, who had a statue erected in his name last year (while statues to dead colonialists are being ripped down and thrown in the river), his position is clear. Winmar leaves no doubt that his experiences are as prevalent today as they were in 1993 making the connection between the Black Lives Matter campaign, social justice, human rights, football and the pathway forward.
If anyone was unsure that just because footy is about to land that the issues facing people of colour will be pushed to the side a clip from the Melbourne Football club training session put paid to that. In what starts out as a seemingly relaxed address by the Demons coach Simon Goodwin it soon gives way to a very clear and measured point about how the issues of the previous week have touched the club. Goodwin helps the players understand the gravity of the issue by talking about the 432 First Nations Australians who have died in custody since 1991. For Goodwin it is about context and understanding. He notes that 5 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have died in custody last year alone. One of these was the Aunty of Neville Jetta’s wife, Sam. Goodwin talks about the power of taking ownership and non-Indigenous footballers and people making a stand. “We unite together” Goodwin calmly explains. This is as clear an example of the intersection and overlap of politics and sport and it all comes in the first segment of the episode.
Given the return to play the general manager of Football Operations, Steve Hocking, is also a guest on Yokayi Footy. He talked about the impact of Covid-19 and the challenges the AFL have faced. For Hocking, the priority around the health of all players and staff on game day and beyond are the issues that are most pressing. Citing Marlion Pickett and Sydney Stack Hocking reminds us there is also the need to consider the social and cultural health of the game as we move foward. With the reductions in team lists and less soft cap resources available the decisions made about player selection will be scrutinised much more than in any time in the game’s history. In order to deal with the social and cultural health of the game Hocking has consulted with people from across the industry citing the AFL’s Inclusion and Social Policy manager Tanya Hosch and Richmond assistant coach Xavier Clarke as key people in the discussion. This is something the AFL need to get right Hocking emphasizes.
As Goodwin says in his address its about context. The context we are in now will have greater bearing on the future and the future will change the context again. For me we never really arrive at our destination but operate in a continual state of becoming. As a code and for the people that follow and administer it, we need to ensure that the future is something we can all buy into as the politics that feed into the sport we love has never been more vividly experienced and quite possibly never will be again.