Of Bogans and Burqas

By Phil Dimitriadis

The AFL celebrates multicultural round this week. Its catchcry is: “Many cultures, one game”. Possibly, but there is more to promoting cross-cultural understanding than just vacuous slogans and panegyric rhetoric.

People from diverse cultural backgrounds are still seen as a novelty and until this changes  Australian football will not realistically reflect the truth of our multi-layered society.

Can the burqa and the bogan really co-exist ? Yes, as long as they follow the same team. This is where footy becomes, ephemerally, “one culture, many teams”.

Last year I had two discerningly epiphanic experiences at the footy. One was in August when I took a class of young adult migrants to see Collingwood v Brisbane. I had unashamedly indulged in my own form of propaganda by reasoning that because most of the students lived and went to school in Collingwood, it was only natural that they should follow the Pies.

We were on the top deck of the Ponsford Stand and there were about twenty of us from nationalities that were represented by Sudanese, Vietnamese, Chinese, Eritrean, Somali, Afghani, Sri Lankan and Iraqi migrants. This was multicultural Australia at a microcosmic level at the G. As the students jeered, cheered, marvelled at the skills, moaned at the clangers, I made a point of observing what fans around made of our culture club. Perhaps I’m an idealist, but I saw joy in the expression of most of the people as they watched my students engage with the game. It made me feel good to see that a girl in a hijab can sit next to a tattooed bogan and share the joy of watching Swannie, Pendles and Clokey strut their stuff.

Many of my students are aware of Majak Daw and Bachar Houli and what they symbolise. They represent a breakthrough for the minority as it seeks an identity and place in the current mainstream. The Greek and Italian kids I went to school with in the 1970s and 80s felt a similar connection to players like Robert Dipierdomenico and Peter Daicos.

The landscape has thankfully changed for the better and the more young people from diverse backgrounds are encouraged to play and support the game, the more the term ‘multicultural’ loses its otherness and novelty value.

The second event happened during a game against Melbourne on the Queen’s Birthday round last year. Harry O’Brien was playing a blinder. He was continually cutting a swathe through the Melbourne forwards and seemed to go for regular gallops throughout the game. After bursting through a handful of Demon’s and setting up Clokey with a delightful pass my mate George  screamed: “Black Caviar!!”

It was a scream of unrestrained appreciation at one level, and an expression of unconscious racism at another. There were a few sheepish looks from the crowd, but no one protested as I think they too were confused at the intention of the barracker. Was he celebrating difference or was he marginalising? George too, winced after he yelled it as he became aware of the negative implications of his exclamation. Around this time the horse known as Black Caviar was dominating race meetings across Australia and Harry O does tend to have a galloping running gait. George somehow connected the intoxication of witnessing his favourite horse and his favourite player at the peak of their powers.

I wonder how Harry would feel being compared to a Black Caviar, despite the fact that George couldn’t distinguish between a mare and a stallion. The truth is that if Harry was white the comparison to Black Caviar would not have been made.  We need to be more discerning with the metaphors we choose; regardless of our best intentions and this where Multicultural Round can help elevate our awareness.

Footy is a place where our prejudices and our desires to overcome these prejudices can mediate. I look forward to the day when Multicultural Round is no longer necessary, other than as a historical reference. This would mean that multiculturalism is the rule rather than the exception that needs to be highlighted, packaged and sold to the white, anglo masses. Australia has never been a monoculture. Sure, it tried to be monochromatic, but the demand for cheap labour put pay to that dubious ideal.

Indeed, there are so many degrees of difference within cultures. In 2005 I attended a Soccer match in Greece between AO Kerkyra and Aris Salonika. Kerkyra (Corfu) is an island close to Albania while Salonika is not far from the Bulgarian border on the North-East side of Greece. The voluminous vulgarity of the racial abuse I heard that day floored me. Greeks from Salonika were calling Greeks from Kerkyra ‘Albanians’, while Greeks from Kerkyra were calling Greeks from Salonika ‘Bulgarians’. Luckily, there weren’t any real Albanians and Bulgarians at the ground or it might have gotten right out of hand. I’ll never forget the level of hatred in those people and I hope I never experience it again. So much fear, so much anger.

In 1991 I went to a match between South Melbourne Hellas and Melbourne Croatia.  Francis Awaritefe, who was playing for Melbourne, had to endure chants of ‘nigga’ by the South fans every time he went near the ball. A year later, he was playing for South Melbourne to the applause of those adoring fans. Guess what the Melbourne Croatia fans were shouting?

In fairness, Soccer has improved its image, but my point is that the racist abuse was coming from fans of a multicultural background.  Cultural harmony needs to be worked at by everyone and every sporting code has an opportunity to nurture a celebration and normalisation of diversity. Tolerance is a cop out as the word itself means having to endure something you don’t like.

The AFL has laid a promising foundation with their multicultural program and I hope and will do my best top contribute to its prosperity, as a Greek-Australian, a human being and as a footy fan.






  1. The Wrap says

    Great article Phil. And an interesting point. Footy has always been part of the glue that held this city together. Crossing class, gender and more recently, racial barriers, while forming endearing & enduring tribal groups that are put away once the season sends.

    I’ve noticed the overt racism in Soccer in Europe – and read reports of it in other parts of the world. I can also remember the racial taunts from the Aussie footy fans right up till it became unfashionable- and reportable to security people. Nicky Winmar’s taunt to the Collingwood crowd has become iconic, and a watershed moment..

    What is it with the newly arrived? They just don’t seem to get it. They even take their flares, superman national flag capes and racial baggage to the tennis. And what is it about the soccer authorities that they aren’t able to stamp it out? They certainly found a swag of money to squander on glad handing their World Cup bid.

    I remember flying home alongside an eastern European migrant. He was in his late 20s and spoke four languages. He said we were so lucky not to have to share borders with other nationalities. Then there was the American who wouldn’t visit Australia. “I can’t go to no country were I can’t take my protection”. He was talking about our gun laws. And he did happen to be the proprietor of a gun shop as big as a small supermarket..

    I’m not having a go at you or anything, but I’m uncomfortable about people being described – or describing themselves – as ‘heritage’-Australians. My wife does it, saying that they do it in America. Afro-Americans, Mexican-Americans, and so on. I think the US’s record on ethnic harmony is a very good reason not to follow their lead in categorising heritage nationality. Like I said, I’m not having a go at you.. I loved your piece and I thought it warranted a thoughtful comment.

    Having said all that – one Greek-Australian who has made a stance on the matter, and a difference, is Andy D. (And everyone else who has contributed, in a large or small way, to making Our Great Game, relatively, racially tolerant) He’s going to be remembered for quite a few things; this should be one of them.

  2. Andrew Starkie says

    Yeah, but you still like Eurythmics, Phil.

    Seriously, great piece, mate. Agreed, hopefully the day will come when we don’t need a multi-cultural round.

    have you been following the right wing, racial violence from the Ukraine where the Euro championships are being held?

  3. Lord Bogan says

    Been getting a fair bit of flak on Facebook for coming across as anti-soccer even though that wasn’t my intention. I was actually bagging Greeks for being racist. It could have happened at a basketball match, but it didn’t. Wrapster, I refer to myself as Greek-Australian because I was born in Greece and have lived there for prolonged periods in my life so it is a conscious choice. To be I honest I still don’t think I know what Australian means. Is it a nationality, a geographical identity, footy? Still not sure and would be keen to hear some ideas.

    Andrew, I think the tensions in Europe are part of the economic turmoil, which in turn heightens fear and impels people to search for scapegoats. The incidents that have happened at the footy this year are also a bit of a worry. We still have a fair bit to do when it comes to understanding and embracing a variety of cultural practices and ideologies. Maybe Multicultural Round can lay a foundation for something more substantial to be built.


  4. Great stuff, Phil.
    But yep, I’m with A S on this one. I am not sure that the AFL even needs
    a multi-cultural round any more.
    I watch a minimum of 4 junior footy games ach weekend, and it is
    commonplace to see kids of all sorts of cultural backgrounds playing
    footy. They are all Australians. Is not that idea of a multi-cultural round
    something from a by-gone era?

  5. Thanks for the article Phil – great read. It put into words something that’s been troubling me since yesterday when I heard one of the comical channels (pay or FTA, can’t recall) invite contestants to nominate the “best multicultural player”. What a good idea I thought! Next, to pick a player. But who is in the pool I’m picking from?
    I know, Adam Goodes, a player I’ve long admired for his sheer locomotive effect on his team when needed. But then, I thought,perhaps they really mean someone who fits the category “other” and for an indigenous footballer like Goodesy, that probably means a player who’s not indigenous – that is, pick someone who’s an interloper; whose folks kinda wandered in in the last few hundred years or so.
    Then I thought of Peter Bell! What a great story. Abandoned Korean kid with GI parent rescued by missionaries, goes on to greatness. But then I thought: “hang on – he’s really just a kid from country WA” and there’s a fair few of them who’ve made their mark on the game over the years.
    Nic Natainui – now we’re talking. Here’s a kid from somewhere really exotic – the least likely place you’d expect to find such a unique talent. The suburbs of Sydney!!! But there’s just a bit too much focus on the Sydney lot these days isn’t there?
    So then I went back to the definition problem. There was only one way to read it – THEY’RE TALKING ABOUT ALL OF US.
    So I put in my entry – Gary Ablett (with apologies to Scott Pendlebury). And I’m pleased with myself. Now, if only I can work out what makes this different from any other “best” competition.

  6. It worries me a bit, all these foreigners taking over our game.

    When I was a boy I watched the famous Aussie icon team St Kilda win the flag. They only had good local boys in their premiership team.

    Sierakowski, Synman, Mynott, Payze and Ditterich.

  7. Phil – great thought provoking piece.

    Could it be that Multicultural Round (and for that matter the Indigenous Round) are not required already? Could it be that by highlighting these differences we perpetuate them?

    I must admit I quite like the idea of Multicultural Round and the Indigenous Round because we can celebrate the rich cultural contribution that these groups have made to footy (let alone society) but I’ve also struggled with the idea of highlighting these groups as “different”.

    And as soon as big organisations get hold of them like the AFL or even governments, they become inherently patronising.

    I watched Michael Long taking the walk to the MCG on the TV during this year’s Indigenous Round and I have to admit it made me cringe – the walk is nicely symbolic (though symbolism never achieved anything) but he had reporters all around asking dumb questions. It was all wrong.

    And if we celebrate Geek and Italian etc etc heritage in footy, why not Irish, Scottish, English? Where do we stop?

    Vexed questions. The danger is that we get swallowed up in political correctness.

  8. Dave Nadel says

    Good piece Phil. As you probably noticed I happened to read (and respond to) this piece on facebook before I got to the Almanac last night. Some soccer fans are extraordinarily glass jawed.

    I don’t have a problem with a multi cultural round but I am not actually sure what Andrew D and his PR people really have in mind. I suspect they actually mean an immigrant round since when I looked at the AFL’s nominations for its multicultural team the criteria seemed to be players who were either born overseas or had one parent born overseas

    Ian Synman, the best player from the Jewish community to play VFL/AFL is not included. Synman, who played for (and coached?) AJAX after his VFL career, clearly belonged to a community that was not part of the dominant community. He may not have been the child of recent immigrants (The first Jews to come to Australia came on the first fleet) but he clearly was a “multicultural footballer” if multicultural means not part of the dominant culture. On the other hand players with parents from England , Scotland and New Zealand were included and frankly, unless they were New Zealand Maoris, they would have fitted seamlessly into the dominant culture.

    Part of the difficulties with the multicultural project is that immigration, assimilation versus cultural survival versus separatism, ethnicity, race, religion, discrimination and tolerance are all bundled into the same debate and the result can be some very confusing and sometimes quite silly positions are taken for and against “multiculturalism” Then some academics and journalists throw in indigenous people into the multicultural debate even though their relation to the dominant culture is quite different to that of non Anglo or non Christian immigrants. Now some of our facebook friends seem to want to throw in Soccer as a multicultural issue which further confuses the debate.

  9. Terrific piece of writing, Phil. Greatly enjoyed the read

  10. Great stuff, Phil. It reminds me of a conversation I had with fellow Almanacker Sean Gorman, when I raised my concerns with him about the risk of the AFL simply turning the Indigenous Round into a slick marketing campaign – which given the role football can play in Indigenous communities, would be a great shame.

  11. Just a quick one fellas – where do Dietrich, Loewe, Riewoldt, Schnider, Neitz & Schwarz (just to mention a few) fit in here?

  12. DBalassone says

    Gutsy article Phil.

    I like the initiative by the AFL on this one, and to answer Dips question above: Scottish, English and Irish immigrants are also celebrated in this round (as well as Germans The Wrap).

    Here is a multicultural team that was in the H-Sun on Monday (note, I have replaced Akermanis, whose biologoical father is Australian, with Paul Vander haar):

    B: Justin Leppitsch (Austria), Stephen Silvagni (Italy), Matthew Scarlett (England)
    HB: John Worsfold (England), Glen Jakovich (Croatia), Anthony Koutoufides (Greece/Italy)
    C: Peter Matera (Italy), Ian Stewart (Italy), Robert DiPierdomenico (Italy)
    HF: Alex Jesaulenko (Ukraine), Dermott Brereton (Ireland), Paul Vander haar (Holland)
    F: Peter Daicos (Macedonia), Nick Riewoldt (Germany), Sam Kekovich (Serbia)
    Foll: Jim Stynes (Ireland), Simon Black (NZ), Daniel Kerr (India)
    Inter: Alan La Fontaine (France), Sam Mitchell (NZ), Stewart Loewe (Germany), Roy Cazaly (England)
    Captain: Alex Jesaulenko (Ukraine)
    Coach: Jock McHale (Ireland)

  13. Lord Bogan says

    Damo, there are some great champions in this team, no doubt. But this team is more Eurocultural and that is part of the problem. Should the team be picked to represent greats of the AFL or a mix of diverse cultures and backgrounds?

  14. The Wrap says

    It all gets too confusing for me Lord Bogan. I always remember the graffiti slogan someone had pained in a wall – Macedonia is Greek. Someone with a more global perspective had written under it – so is Con the fruiterer.

    BTW, did anyone catch Bachar Houli being interviewed on SEN drive time last night. Eight Islamic schools are playing off for the Bachar Houli Cup this week. Revealingly he said, when he was at school, it was all about education. Life imitating sport again. All work & no play makes Jahfar a dull boy. eh?

  15. DBalassone says

    Fair point Phil. Hopefully in 20-30 years time we will see a lot more African, Arabic and Asian names on this list. I reckon the AFL are going about the right way.

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