Monday, May 08, 2006


In their groundbreaking study: "From Foreigner to Citizen: Greek Migrants and Social Change in White Australia 1897-2000," Toula Nicolacopoulos and George Vassilacopoulos point out that one of the ways that the dominant culture secures and reinforces its position as legitimate owner of this country is by asserting the right not only to exclude or include others, and the Greek community has certainly experienced that power first hand, for it is by its virtue that it was permitted to exist at all, but also to define and control exactly how such groups as are permitted to reside here, may manifest their ethnic identity. Thus our various communities, brotherhoods and other organizations have a structure and method of operation dictated to them by the laws of the State they are formed in and any operation outside the ambit provided by the Law is, as various impassioned groups have discovered after costly and unnecessary litigation, illegal, despite what commonsense and the law of the united guild of Greek cattle herders may have hitherto provided.
Lately, and indisputably in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks which have seen all Anglo-Saxon societies throughout the world become increasingly introverted and suspicious of 'foreign' cultures, so much so in fact that Australian current affairs programs actually have the gall to conduct polls as to whether 'foreign' church services should be held in English, quite probably in order to determine whether the wog version of the Holy Spirit has terrorist tendencies, what has insidiously and increasingly come to be asserted more and more by the corporate sphere, is a purported right to also determine on their behalf, the manner in which ethnic communities are permitted to manifest their ethnic identity and further, to delineate the bounds of what constitutes acceptable ethnic behaviour.
The Football Federation of Australia's recent actions constitute a prime example of this. In a move that has infuriated the Greek community and has even gravely disquieted Greek communities overseas, the FFA, as of 1 March 2006 has issued what it terms a "Spectator Code of Behaviour," according to which: "Each person at a National Team match must: (f) not, and must not attempt to, bring into the venue national or political flags or emblems (except for the recognised national flag of each of the competing teams) or inappropriate banners, whether written in English or a foreign language;"
The implied assumptions contained in this rather curt sentence are manifold. Firstly, one wonders how FFA officials would be in a position to determine which banners written in a 'foreign tongue' would be 'inappropriate.' Conceivably, all foreign language banners would be disallowed on the suspicion that they are inappropriate by making use of the same logic that saw classroom teachers reprimanding students for speaking Greek in the playground on the assumption that if they were expressing something decent they would be doing so in the Queen's English and not in an unknown foreign babble. After all, we do speak English in Australia and my plans to smuggle in a banner to every international football match inscribed: "Genghis Khan Lives" in the Sogdian script of Outer Mongolia have consequently been well and truly foiled.
One would apply a parallel logic to the banning of national or political flags or emblems. The FFA, despite its infinite wisdom and assertion of the right to mediate between ethnic groups it knows little about, has no way of knowing which national or political flags may cause offense either to Australia, an opposing team or a cross-section of society, though implied within paragraph (f) there seems to be a tacit admission that a certain section of spectators have the propensity to carry such flags to matches. As supreme arbiters of social cohesion, they have resorted to the Solomoniac solution of banning all flags and symbols across the board, regardless of their meaning and importance. Evidently this must incidentally mean that Australian sporting symbols such as the boxing kangaroo and the green and gold banner are also banned and it shall be interesting to see how closely the spectator code of behaviour will be enforced in this regard.
The problem with this particular aspect of the Spectator's Code is its cultural insensitivity. It ignores the fact that ethnic communities and the fans of 'foreign' teams do not manifest their ethnic identity solely through the display of a national flag. The Greek community is a prime example. Our flags and symbols may include the double headed eagle, a simple Greek flag consisting only of the cross without the stripes, which incidentally was the national flag up until the mid-seventies, the flag of Cyprus, various Hellas or Greek soccer team flags, the Star of Vergina and countless other harmless symbols, all of which are inoffensive and an integral part of how one expresses their local or regional identity, or cultural affiliation. Apparently these are banned. Further, other ethnic groups who may wish to highlight their support of one team or the other by proudly displaying their own ethnic flag, will not be able to do so. Strict adherence to this code would presumably prohibit the display of the Eureka flag as offensive to the Chinese victims of racist miners. After all, that flag is as 'political' as the flags of the Liberal and Labor Parties, which must also be prohibited, though I would venture to say, this would affect no one.
Such hysteria about the display of ethnic symbols is quite puzzling, especially when one considers that recently, in 2004, the FFA permitted Turkish fans to display the highly offensive flag of the illegal puppet regime that occupies the north of Cyprus, without this causing too much protest or upheaval by the aggrieved parties, though this was propably due to ineptitude on their part. In fact the timing of the publication and institution of the Spectator's Code leads one to suspect that it anticipates the upcoming Greece v Australia friendly match, which through the FFA's actions has the potential of becoming anything but friendly. Such a suspicion is further underlined by the admission of certain fans of the Greek team that they had the decency to consult with the FFA a good deal prior to the release of tickets and politely advise them that they wish to display a banner within the stadium bearing the star of Vergina, the royal emblem of the Greek kings of Macedonia. Somehow, a certain section of our community to whom the star of Vergina purportedly is also of significance, came to know of the aforementioned Greek fans' plans, protested vociferously, allegedly totally misrepresented the intentions of the said fans and apparently did much to secure the FFA's blanket ban.
If the FFA thought that they could endear themselves to Greek-Australian fans who are vital to the propagation and establishment of Football as an institution in this country by its actions, it should think again. It should reconsider its position not only in the light of the fact that the Greek community is a proud one that will not suffer lightly to be told by others totally ignorant of its composition how to manifest its own identity but also in the light of the fact that it is widely held that the majority of the 90,000 people that came to support Australia in the World Cup qualifier in 1997 against Iran, and in 2001 against Uruguay belonged to Australia's Greek community.
As pointed out in previous Diatribes, notably "Soccerculturalism" late last year, the FFA and the wider community cannot have it both ways. It cannot attempt to 'purge' Australian soccer of the intrinsic ethnic colour that constitutes its vertebrae and insult its fans' heritage, then expect them to all come and support the FFA's sporting endeavours. It is too much to ask an insensitive FFA to investigate the meaning of each 'wog' symbol and determine at its own discretion, the level of its potential malignancy. The FFA and other entities like it should have the perspicacity and maturity to understand that like it or not, there will always be points of controversy and debate among sections of society and that the 'ethnic' section is no exception. A blanket ban on such moot points merely serves to entrench 'opposing sides' in the trenches of their own belief and increase bitterness all around, especially considering that it is now evident that the FFA feels that it can pick and choose which ethnic symbols to suppress at will. This can only send the message to the ethnic communities that are the mainstay of support for Football in this country that while their dollars are welcome, their identities are not unless scrubbed up, re-packaged and made 'acceptable' to a self-righteous and hypocritical self-appointed mainstream. Not very friendly at all.
Interestingly enough, a few bouts of silliness and thoughtlessness notwithstanding, most ethnic conflict in this country has been perpetrated by the ruling culture against minorities and not via intra-ethnic strife. Whatever the future of the FFA's Spectator Code of Conduct, it should serve as a rallying call to all those mired within their own complacency: the rights and privileges we have come to expect from our hosts are illusory and impermanent. Great vigilance and a greater commitment to preserving our heritage against those who would assail it are also required. This means that fans should consider what their favourite sport's administrators think of them and manifest their pride with discernment and circumspection, lest the boa constrictor of restriction chokes displays of ethnicity from the game they engendered. The command for today therefore is not to take our culture in vain, lest the angry gods of Olympus and the Titans of assimilation that lurk beneath the Tartarus of every parochial molehill, strike us down for good.

First published in NKEE on 8 May 2006