Australia didn’t take too kindly to outsiders back in the day.
Various wartime atrocities over the past 100 years have seen millions of outsiders flock to Australia in search of a new life, new beginnings, new possibilities.
These immigrants have all contributed towards the rich, diverse, globalised society that we now live in. However, in many cases, at least at first blush, these outsiders were viewed as a threat, both economically and on a social/cultural level.
Of course, this is not an Australia-specific problem; indeed, it is probably Europe itself that has harboured the most antipathy towards migrants.
Whether its France’s racist Front National leader Jean Marie Le Pen or the concerning new wave of Neo-Nazis in Germany, Europe still retains its cultural and economic Edward Said-esque fear of the ‘other’.
Back to sport, though. As we all remember, the bullish, circa-2005 Sydney Swans presented a significant social and cultural threat to the AFL heartland. The Swans, with their ‘dour’, ‘lock-down’ stoppage tactics, changed the way the game was played.
These accusations went on for some time. However, the Swans’ unique style of play undoubtedly changed the face of the game.
Premierships followed – and today, this anti-‘Sydney’* sentiment suddenly seems outdated and borderline racist, like an Alabama redneck’s unshakeable conviction that Barack Obama is a African-born Muslim.
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It is worth noting that – not even that long ago – the San Antonio Spurs faced criticism for being ‘boring’. Americans were used to LeBron’s style basketball; all primal muscularity, alley oops and posterisations. The Spurs were anything but muscular and dynamic. Tellingly, they consist predominantly of overseas imports, each bringing a different style of play to the NBA.
Now the Spurs’ simple, ‘pass first’ mentality is being celebrated league-wide; their style of play is seen as pure, team-oriented, and anything but boring. Tim Duncan’s post-play is a masterclass in body work; Tony Parker’s paint penetration and shot selection is clinical; Manu Ginobli’s ‘Eurostep’ is sublime.
Personally, I believe the Spurs are the most watchable team in the NBA – even if they lack an ESPN highlights machine like LeBron (although Kawhi Leonard serves as an excellent lite version of the King).
The efficient use of spacing that the Spurs employ is, in many respects, similar to how the Swans revolutionised the game of AFL through their focus on stoppages.
Initially, this disruption caused many to fear the change that would sweep through the AFL. But, as LinkedIn will tell you, a business that fails to embrace change and disruption is one destined to fail.
This style of play genuinely posed a social/cultural threat to AFL in the eyes of your average Melbournian.
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The cultural threat was very real. But an economic fear was magnified earlier this year, when chief Southern hick Eddie McGuire whinged about Sydney’s “cost of living” exemption.
Now, the latest uproar is to do with the Swans’ Academy, which gives Sydney “first dibs” on potential draft picks. As such, the AFL is now considering changing the bidding system for draft picks.
In response, the Swans this week threatened to scale down their ‘investment’ in developing the game in NSW, should the AFL change the system and force the club to pay a higher fee for “prize recruits,” according to no less than The Age journo Caroline Wilson.
Hilariously, The Age recently called for calm, publishing the following headline in order to allay fears among Victorians: Why The Swans Academy is Nothing to be Scared Of.
But it’s true: Victorians really are scared. Because the Swans are a European immigrant doing their bit; making good in this New World, only to be subjected to various discrimination and hate crime on the sheer basis that they are foreign, different, and, most importantly, successful.
By challenging the status quo, the Swans are now fighting the possibility of rules specifically invented to stop them from succeeding. It’s classic US-style protectionism; it’s bullshit.
As we all know, the Swans were transplanted to Sydney in the 1980s. It was the only way the club could survive. Penniless and in a new foreign land, the Swans struggled for decades, finally reaching their lofty premiership-winning heights in the mid-2000s.
The Swans, while an old European immigrant, are nonetheless incredibly modern and forward thinking. They’ve adapted to the modern climate, challenging as it were, yet have come up trumps. In a few short years, they’ve learned English, opened up a profitable small business, and sent their kids to an elite private school.
The AFL should understand and embrace the fact that the modern-day Swans are different. That they are the definition of the son of a European immigrant come good, like a George Calombaris, Mark Bouris, or ‘Crazy’ Ron Bakir.
The Sydney Swans have succeeded – and the AFL, as football’s chief custodian, should be proud of that. But they should not cut them off at the knees just because that little cornershop is now turning a profit.
By Dave Edwards
* Sydney is a social construct. What is ‘Sydney’ anyway? Is it a glamorous, superficial vixen, or is it hardnosed, clamp-down midfield pressure resulting in AFL premierships? We will discuss what ‘Sydney’ means in future articles, don’t you worry.