Supporting Sport – The Power and the Passion

This, post 199, is dedicated to the concept of supporting sport and the importance it can have to people’s lives.  Last night, I took my family to the Melbourne Victory v Western Sydney Wanderers’ game at AAMI Park in Melbourne.  It was a beautiful night out – it looked outstanding from where we were sitting.

IMG_0785I will preface the rest of this post with the comment that I really want the Western Sydney Wanderers to succeed as a club – and that their success in terms of onfield results and off field membership reach has been remarkable. I was one of those people who went to support the Parramatta Power in the old NSL:

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Which is why I rather like this alternative logo for the Wanderers:

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The problem for the Power was that the supporter base never really built – partially because soccer was trying to distance itself from the old clubs like Marconi, Sydney (Croatia) United and the like – associating instead with league clubs like the Parramatta Eels. There was certainly no chanting at Power games or intense groups like the Wanderers’ Red and Black Bloc (RBB).

Last night we arrived to see the RBB arrive at the overpass bridge that leads to AAMI Park, singing their chants and banging their drums, taunting the opposition Victory supporters. The chants and songs didn’t stop inside the ground – indeed, they seemed to remain exactly the same throughout the game, a touch like a bagpipe drone in the background of the game.  But they like to stay in unison with each other and hold their passion.  It’s as if making their voices heard is more important than watching the game and cheering in tempo with its rise and fall.  It’s a unified passion the Wanderers’ fans have in spades.  One such example of that passion was also shown earlier in the day, when Wanderers and Victory fans fought in Melbourne’s streets:

Another example of said passion was midway through the second half, when a couple of the RBB set off flares, which one of my children thought were gunshots:

IMG_0801I know that this doesn’t represent the actions and attitudes of most Wanderers’ supporters – that it seems to be mostly a few testosterone driven blokes who like to appear like they are Big Men by fighting and setting off maritime rescue devices. The chanting, however, is an interesting phenomenon in terms of supporting sport – whether to continue with the same chanting throughout the game, or just let the game carry you through it. It’s a question raised also by the repetitive chants used by the Barmy Army being carried through the country.

When it comes to my idea of sport supporting, when you sign on as a supporter / member of a club, you are also agreeing with the club culture, not only whether they are winning or not.  The kind of supporting attitude exhibited by the RBB can be – and is – explained, however, as “people having fun”.  They aren’t, however, the kind of fun or support for me – which is why I haven’t climbed onto the Wanderers’ train and attended games at Parramatta Stadium.  Not that this should or would matter to the club or its supporters – it’s now a tight, large group that buys up the memberships quickly and fills home games before the season begins.  They are happy with the culture they have built in this short time and take it everywhere they go. And some people want to know – especially media outlets wishing to characterise soccer as a violent game off the field.  It is for this reason that the Wanderers’ administration really needs to address the problems of flares and the result of a touch too much passion in terms of off field fights – it does reflect badly on a game trying to appeal to families.

The thing about team culture has also built around the other Sydney football club that has experienced recent success – the Sydney Swans.  It has, over the past few years, recruited players who not totally succeeded at their previous clubs and built them to fit the Sydney way, or built players from their youth. It’s been a great way for Sydney to stay “under the radar” and have success with unheralded players.  It has also helped to built a distinctive Sydney Swans team culture to the outside world.

Two recent decisions has shaken that image for some – the signing of successful Adelaide forward Kurt Tippett and the superstar half forward Buddy Franklin.  The signing of two expensive, successful stars from other clubs have shown the intent of the new Sydney – to win by using every inch of their salary cap.  Plus, show that the club has little issue with Buddy Franklin bringing his sexist, nasty and selfish ways to the Swans.  It’s certainly shaken my other half’s commitment to the club, which has been strong since 1995.  She is refusing to support them while Buddy is playing. She is just waiting for him to be injured in order to watch again. For me, it confirms a sneaking suspicion that all of the top clubs in the AFL have a “whatever it takes, whatever cash it takes” attitude to staying at the top – an EPL attitude, but with a salary cap to bend to a club’s will – the Swans are no different from the rest.  It’s also a ridiculous deal that should backfire on the Swans – Franklin will not last anywhere near the nine years they have paid him for.  The deal and what it symbolises has shaken a bond I have had with the Swans since their arrival in Sydney in 1983.

Perhaps, though, my bond wasn’t ever that had by most members and supporters of sporting clubs – that of total, almost blind dedication to the colours and song.  That a perception of a team culture isn’t as important as winning, as raising the cup as many times as possible.  Many Swans supporters would think I’m a turncoat and traitor to finally sever my support for the club for ephemeral things like this, Buddy’s clothing line :

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Instead, these same people would claim that I and others making this kind of stand about Buddy should leave politics and consideration of sexism out of our sport supporting.  But many can’t, anymore than a club fundamentalist can sway from supporting their team no matter what happens.

It is for this reason I will continue to enjoy sport as a spectator, separated from having the type of rusted on passion that we have seen from RBB members and from Swans supporters who love the idea of Buddy missing from a set shot Buddy scoring a goal from the sideline in the red and the white.

Making a Progressive IPA – Using a Beer Budget to Achieve Champagne Success

What is the Preston Institute?  Why is it, after these three years, is it in total obscurity when compared to those august boutique Institutes such as Gerard Henderson’s Sydney Institute, Kevin Donnelly’s Education Standards Institute and the Institute of Public Affairs?

I am now asking, having published nearly 200 posts from the auspices of this Institute, what’s next? Where is my funding / regular column / media exposure / Research Fellows working to achieve my dreams / expensive dinners featuring long speeches from Important People?

In order to achieve that El Dorado of Power, Influence and Alcohol, I’ve decided that I need to make the Preston Institute be more like the IPA.

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How can I do this?  As far as I can tell, there’s a number of steps I can take.

1.  Attracting Donors. I would need to fit the P.I. into a particular set of ideological beliefs that would attract funding from a particular set of anonymous donors.  It wouldn’t take all that much. The idea of anonymity for backers is important to think tanks – because they need to appear objective on some level or another. It is somewhat ironic and audacious that a think tank like the IPA, being as focused on “freedom” as much as they are, doesn’t allow the freedom of the public seeing their supporters – but it leaves the door open to anyone trying the same thing.  This is where progressive organisations can drop the whole transparent thing in terms of funding – it leads to hypocritical attacks – for example, Gerard Henderson frequently attacks the fact that Morry Schwartz, backer of the Monthly, is a property developer.

In the case of the P.I., there’s room for an ideological line that already exists to be rewarded with funding.  The P.I. has long talked up the benefits of renewable energy, so perhaps if it talked more about public private partnerships for the construction of solar thermal power stations, it could therefore be funded by companies that support such activities. Or maybe the cause of Western Sydney and its potential for growth as a new hub for smart, Green businesses. Really, it’s not that much of a stretch to make more emphasis on business opportunities created by progressive political policy in order to attract more funding for research fellows.   In that way, the P.I. could then use that money and resources to support things that mostly have no relationship to the corporate money supporting it – the uneconomic issues where no corporate money is to be made. In the case of the P.I., those would be things like disability support, assistance for Indigenous communities, support for asylum seekers, special needs departments in schools, help for the homeless.

In this regard, Consider the IPA, around since 1943, spruiking freedom, asking us to consider that perhaps there isn’t enough of it about. They have managed in 70 years to get considerable funding and support for an abstract noun.  The IPA do produce some work that has little to do with the work of the companies that support them – most of Chris Berg’s output, for example, is related to the abstract noun, rather than towards the advocacy of specific causes.  Surely it can’t be that hard to gather support for other abstract nouns. Equity.  Safety.  Future.  Care. Fairness.  The money, however, will still never be as great as that afforded to the IPA, due to the sheer number of companies that embrace the Freedom necessary to make more money. So, the progressive answer would need to be happy with a beer budget. It can be done, however.

2. Find Articulate, Savvy, Media Ready Research Fellows and Assistants.  One of the more recent successes of the IPA has been to employ people who present well on media outlets – TV, newspapers, radio, Twitter as well as produce reams of material that is, at times, reasonable and well researched.  I know to a considerable of people who listen to everything said and written, there are a number of leaps of logic that seem breathtaking in their audacity and flawed chutzpah.  Whenever Tim Wilson appears on the Drum, for example, watch the tweets fly.  The IPA talking heads, however, are always available to present a view, argue it and act as “balance” against progressive voices on media outlets who wish to present as an objective voice.  I have found myself agreeing with people like Berg and Sabine Wolff, for example, because there are things they say that are reasonable and well thought out.

On the issue of IPA members appearing on the ABC and Fairfax, it doesn’t matter how much Fairfax and the ABC feature the research fellows for some people – they are always being accused of bias, no matter what. Henderson may call The Age “The Guardian by the Yarra”, but you can’t imagine the Guardian publishing Chris Berg.   He can also whine about the “no conservative presenters” at the ABC and Chris Kenny can label the ABC “their ABC”, no matter how many IPA fellows appear on their programs.  It seems to make no difference to the bloviating of these lazy reactionaries.  It is for this reason that I think the ABC News 24 channel should bite the bullet and ask the IPA to produce the Freedom Hour – an hour of stories each week about Freedom. Plus, the Nancy Show, where Gerard Henderson presents vignettes about the Communists in the ABC Corridors. See what kind of response they get.  The shows would probably get viewer numbers that would make the Bolt program viewer numbers seem like those for the Big Brother finale, but it would address the charges that are made.  But then the ABC could put on the Preston Institute Hour.  Actually, perhaps not – first of all, no-one want to watch a wooden head for an hour. Plus, it would more likely branch off into all sorts of politically irrelevant stuff – like beer, wine, classical music, AFL and shopping centre commentary.  Maybe the Independent Australia hour, the No Fibs hour – get the intense people to produce a fiery, focused show.

3. Be closely aligned with one major party.  One of the charges laid at the feet of the IPA is that a number of them are Liberal Party members (with the notable exception of Berg) and that the IPA is a stepping stone to long term work within the party.  It’s a charge the organisation can’t really rebut, because it’s true the case of John Roskam and Tim Wilson.  That is also an outstanding recruiting tool for the IPA – to get paid and then noticed by Liberal Party hierarchy. It is such a platform, because the IPA’s principles do have a lot in common with the libertarian wing of the Liberals.  There was a post made in March by Wendy Harmer in the Hoopla, looking at the IPA and its links to Liberal Party policy – making the point that this shadowy organisation is something to be feared –

Watch out instead for the IPA and their like – the white pointers in the shallows. Their bite can be fatal.

Maybe, however, the situation is that the IPA aren’t necessarily influencing the Liberal Party to do things they weren’t going to do anyway. Many of the IPA’s values are shared by a considerable amount of the Liberal Party and have been for some time.  Many Liberals from the Fraser era (of which my parents were examples) have been fighting this libertarian wing for some time, to less and less avail.  Harmer (and many others) have produced an IPA wishlist for changes in Government policy in order to prove that the IPA is having success in lobbying the Liberals to have the changes made.  I would suggest instead that the wishlist was just a handy predictor of how the Liberal Government was going to act.

The fellows and research assistants of the IPA seem to be a small group of young, enthusiastic and hard working advocates for the cause of Freedom.  It has been argued that they, due to their age and lack of qualifications, don’t deserve the level of influence and access they have been afforded. To that end, two of its members, Berg and Simon Breheny, were made to look rather foolish and underqualified by Doug Cameron in this exchange at a Senate committee related to the Finkelstein review. This may well be right, but the fact remains that the IPA have managed a remarkable amount with the small numbers of people who work for them and their 4,000+ membership.  The money paid to the IPA hasn’t led directly to the advocacy in the media like Fairfax and the ABC – there’s no-one suggesting that there is someone in management forcing them to have IPA people on.  What has happened, however, is that these enthusiastic kids have been provided with access because they do present the presentable face of the views of a considerable number of people who vote Liberal and/or support libertarian values.  A far cry from the out of touch cranks that were shown in this Stuart Littlemore piece for the ABC from 2001, which demonstrates how far the IPA has come in terms of advocacy:

The door is open, therefore, for a similarly enthusiastic group of Labor aligned 20 something students to stop retweeting Tony Abbott budgie smuggler memes and get together into a think tank and produce material in the name of Equity and/or Care. To rally around the cause.  Present a face to the arguments for a society that needs to be more than an economy.  Maybe this same think tank could embrace the enthusiastic 20 something Greens whose beliefs in equity and care are shared – there doesn’t seem to be a lot of difference between the younger members of both parties – the differences are fuelled by much older shibboleths and grudges.

4. Be Ruthless and Single Minded. The IPAs success at changing from a rabble of people like Paddy McGuinness and Michael Warby appearing at forums and pumping out columns for News Limited to having thousands of Twitter followers, ABC panel show appearances and the like should be studied, rather than pointed at as some kind of horrific conspiracy. It’s not been a conspiracy – it’s been done in plain daylight.  The IPA have become very good at remaining single minded in its role as advocate for libertarian, economy focused policy and ignoring the need for social justice and welfare. It’s also very good at keeping hypocritical positions such as supporting Andrew Bolt’s freedom to type whatever he likes while remaining silent on Gina Rinehart’s legal actions against Fairfax journalists.  It’s clear that this approach works in terms of advocacy and media presence of ideas. So, just emulate it.  Forget the self doubt that often infects the progressive cause and be smooth advocates.

So, there it is.  The Preston Institute awaits the call from those willing to use its auspices for the fight for Equity, Care, Fairness, whatever Abstract Nouns will work best.  And then perhaps can commission a brewer to make an IPA related to whatever abstract noun we choose.

Our Nation’s Conscience in Two Cartoons

For many people, it’s been an exhausting year, especially those passionate about politics. For a percentage of those, it’s been an exhausting three years.  This is down to a number of reasons. The biggest, from my perspective, is from the narrow nature of our political sphere and national dialogue.  We now have, in many ways, the Government created for and by the times in Australia.  It has become increasingly frustrating to find an interest and perspective on the political events and discourse of our time. The issues and events have been remarkable mostly for the sheer mundanity and simplistic nature of the debates in this, our mostly binary political landscape.

There is a definite repetitive and predictable nature of the events our new government are providing us  – the bizarre appointment of the former MP from a landlocked seat to our nation’s submarine manufacturer, the absurdity of the Human Rights Commission having to reduce its services relating to school bullying because they have to pay a new “Freedom Commissioner”, whose main qualifications for the role appears to be that he has had things published – this from Brandis’ press release –

“He has published and broadcast widely on the topics of personal freedom, liberal democratic values and the rule of law”

Next will probably come the appointment of Kevin Donnelly, former teacher, then former Chief of Staff to Kevin Andrews and now the head of the small Educational Standards Institute, to some kind of education review board – despite being disconnected from the classroom and its realities for many years – his ideas and approach to education has been critiqued many times over the years, such as here and here – we can expect more of that if he is brought into prominence in the new year. Little of that critique will be to any avail, however, to a government seemingly deaf to criticism from those that did not vote for them. The times are going get tougher for progressive views and programs for the next 2 and a half years at least in a variety of sectors and professions.

In this political time, it’s been the cartoonists that have been the most impressive with their critiques and comments.  I have especially enjoyed the work of Cathy Wilcox and Dave Pope, who provide an antidote to the selfishness and blunt nature of the age in which we live.

To that end, two cartoons have sprung up as the best of the year for me.  The first is Cathy Wilcox’s Repent

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This tells us plenty about our Prime Minister’s mix of religious rhetoric and his attitude towards the onset of climate change. There is also more than a little of Xerxes about his attitude, which summarises somewhat Abbott’s persona and style, even down to the desire to Build Things:

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 7.09.38 pmThe other is Dave Pope’s Blackbirding, which is my favourite cartoon of the year.

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This pairs together two of the biggest, most damaging instincts driving the then Opposition’s, now our Government’s goals. One is the destruction of the push towards renewable energy that will be wreaked by a party supported and funded by mining companies. The other is our nation’s treatment of those who come across the seas in order to escape persecution.  This cartoon speaks of an Australia that seems to be dragged into its past, back to a 19th Century frontier Australia, when we were just an economy looking to grow, caring little about its impact on the non – white human beings used in order to build it.  In this frontier view is our modern, sophisticated commonwealth where new residents have added richness to our community – which we saw with the influx of Vietnamese immigrants in the 1970s.  This Australia, however, is continuing to be eroded, piece by piece as time goes on and “non essential” programs are stripped away.

One of the catchphrases in Gerard Henderson’s Media Watch Dog is “Can You Bear It?”  It’s an easy thing for a bitter, angry man of privilege to write, tapping away in his wood panelled office, seething about the “elites” and “chattering classes” of his febrile imagination.  While Gerard can’t seem to bear much, there are many in our community with far greater burdens to bear and will continue to bear as the next years under Abbott unfold.  While that happens, at least we have the cartoonists to remind us of our nation’s still burning conscience.  It is for that reason I wish our cartoonists didn’t have so much material with which to work.

Mainstream Feelpinions about Politically Correct Nanny Statist Hitsquads

Following the daily twitter political media stream, there’s a lot of attention paid to the columns by the key reactionary producers of the outrage industry – Piers Akerman, Andrew Bolt, Chris Kenny, Miranda Devine and Gerard Henderson, as well as the new addition to the stable, Bob Ellis. With Henderson and his dog now joining the Australian, News Limited’s opinion sections have become the Fyshwick of Outrage Porn.  Akerman’s latest missive, targeting such things as the British show Peppa Pig, demonstrates how easy it is for the Holt St Jack Horners to swirl Twitter into a storm of furious activity based on nothing of consequence. Piers’ problem is easy to identify and dispose of – he is a lazy reactionary that has a problem with modernity in general, not just the ABC – he disagrees with issues even the British Conservatives support, such as marriage equality. And probably Peppa Pig. We haven’t seen David Cameron and his Tories come out in furious disagreement with Peppa and her agendas – though maybe they did if they read this piece drawing parallels with Cameron’s cabinet and the show.

Akerman, Bolt, Kenny, Henderson and co are keen to claim that they are in touch with “mainstream” Australia in their pieces. It’s an intellectually lazy attempt to dismiss other opinions as not having a grounding in “real” Australia, instead some kind of tower made of elephant’s tusks.  It’s the kind of argument negating tactic that we see with phrases like “feelpinion” – used against any of those who argue that understanding of emotive perspectives is important and “politically correct”, used against people seeking equality in the community in terms of institutions and language. “Feelpinion” is a word that has some accurate application, especially if the opinion is just based on one person’s opinion, but there are issues that do require understanding of the emotive dimension in the community – hence why the misuse of the word “feelpinion” as a pejorative insult. “Politically Correct”, however, like “mainstream”, is always a bankrupt, mendacious phrase. The irony of the phrase is that it is often used by those who are politically powerful and hence enforcing a political correctness / orthodoxy of their own.  It’s fairly laughable to have wealthy middle class Anglo Celtic men deriding the “politically correct” when they largely run the country and set the national agenda and language.

That is why, for the most part, “mainstream” and the rest are meaningless words and phrases used by people writing in their own intellectual silos, usually removed from meaningful interaction outside their social and media circles.  Henderson, for example, speaks of the voters of Western Sydney and Lindsay often – but I can’t recall seeing him at Panthers, Penrith Plaza or even the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre.  These opinion writers in newspapers should really be honest and not try to claim that they represent anyone but themselves and their immediate circle of contacts and friends – but there’s not much chance for that kind of honesty with these intellectually dishonest outrage pornographers.

We invariably see at such times many outraged responses – many as ridiculous as the original column – coming thick and fast to such frivolous issues.  That is why we see the lots of responses to such things like Peppagate on Twitter and in comment pages of news sites. Meanwhile, the activities of the current government continue afresh and removed from such controversies.  The more read parts of tabloid dailies and commercial television stations aren’t as tortuously concerned with the ABC’s programming and salaries of the presenters as the column inches in the middle of the papers. Especially that of the largely unread Australian, whose audience would be the envy only of community radio. The most read parts are swept up more with issues like the one on the front cover of today’s Daily Telegraph – the Coalition’s big spending Badgery’s Creek Airport plans – including the extraordinary step of Federal funding of new rail lines.  I can’t imagine as many Twitter comments or as many opinion pieces about that issue than we are seeing with reactions to these phoney culture wars being whipped up by the grumpy columnists of the fourth estate.  That isn’t a big problem, though, as Twitter is more a form of entertainment than anything else. And the Peppa Pig stuff has been funny.

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Homophobia – Still a Giant(s) Thing

In the wake of the weekend weddings of same sex couples in Canberra, the Greater Western Sydney Giants, through their Facebook page, made a strong statement of support for the ACT Government’s stance in the area of marriage equality. A cynic would say that the club did it due to a keenness for more support in progressive Canberra, but even so, it’s still an admirable stance for what is still a contentious issue for some in the community.

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It is illustrative, therefore to look at the Facebook responses to the statement made by the Giants. It seems that homophobia still runs strong amongst some people – especially men.

Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 11.08.24 amNote the opposition fan speaking about a “failing” franchise and then the other user making a reference to the “carbon tax”, as if marriage equality is just an issue of the ALP and Greens, rather than all Australians.  Those who complain about a club being interested in “political issues” remain curiously quiet when clubs announce Government funding of their stadiums and training facilities.  It is usually the case that when people decry to introduction of “politics” into sport, it’s because the complainant doesn’t agree with the politics of the stance.  Or, in this case, the admission that people are gay and should be afforded access to marriage.

The support for the stance, however,  became more vocal as the thread continued.

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However, the thinly veiled homophobia (or not veiled at all) was not far from the surface – The conversation became more heated as men (again) came back in to either be out and proud about their homophobia or, claim that they weren’t homophobic, but…

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Note that Adam Smith and a couple of other men seem to have some issues…

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And so it continued, finishing here with the activist homophobe who is railing against a lack of “moral values” – I am surprised that there weren’t many more of these, using their family – and children – as a pawn for their political game of putting pressure on the club.

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And there it is – I don’t necessarily think there is “so much homophobia in AFL fans” in exclusion from the wider population. Plus, these are isolated examples of homophobic attitudes – as well as a desire to avoid all “politics” – as in, progressive politics, in sport.  The furphy that opposition to marriage equality isn’t homophobic isn’t repeated all that much here – it’s a furphy because there aren’t reasons afforded that aren’t related to the homosexual community being the “other”, the “outsiders” who don’t deserve the same cultural traditions as heterosexual people.  This thread provides ample evidence of the homophobic attitudes that do still exist amongst some in the community.

The Giants’ stance is admirable, and would do well to ignore the outcry from a few cranks.    Homophobia, whether it’s overt or hidden behind cries about “politics”, is of a previous age and football clubs are starting to embrace that.