EVER since the surge of interest in soccer in Australia after the national team made it to the World Cup finals in 2006 and the A-League was set up, the Australian Football League – the body that governs Australian rules football – has been looking over its shoulder, realising that it has another sport competing for audiences.
Until soccer reared its head as a contender, the AFL had the two rugby codes – league and union – to contend with.
But there is worse to come – the AFL will now have to contend with a sport that had its genesis right here in Melbourne, one that’s beginning to draw crowds on the weekends.
It’s the game called Indian bashing and it’s growing in popularity. Go online, search around a while, see how many people are there to defend it – and you’ll realise that AFL chief Andrew Demetriou certainly has something to fear.
The latest game, staged in Epping recently, drew 70 people in a small indoor venue while four Indians were beaten up.
Imagine what it could have been like if it had been staged at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, an arena which can hold 90,000 people with ease. I can just see the ticket touts rubbing their hands in glee.
While the AFL is busy trying to tone down the biffo and has acted decisively against racism, the new sport has no such inhibitions. Indeed, in Epping the first racist taunt came from a woman.
And biffo? Man, the new game has landed plenty of Indian students in hospital. One guy died of head injuries. Australian Rules cannot compete.
What’s more, Indian-bashing has the support of the police and politicians too. Neither is willing to say a bad word about the sport.
The media is on-side too. With some notable exceptions, there is little negative comment on the issue – and the media manages to keep those truculent Indians from making a noise about it too.
A classic example of how to do this was illustrated on the ABC’s Lateline program a few months ago.
Two Australian citizens of ethnic backgrounds, Tanvir Ahmed and Waleed Aly, discussed the sport within the broader framework of racism. Ahmed inclined to the view that there was no racism at play while Aly said there was “low-level racism” involved.
It looked quite good – ethnic types discussing Indian-bashing. But looks are deceptive – both Ahmed and Aly, no slight on either, have spent nearly all of their lives in this country. Neither is of Indian extraction.
Presenter Leigh Sales just provided an Australian viewpoint all over again. Everyone nodded in approval. Them ethnic types had been given their say – who could fault the balanced ABC?
Demetriou hardly needs another distraction like Indian-bashing. The man has had to set up AFL teams in far-flung areas of the country to generate interest in places where rugby league and rugby union hold sway.
Now, he will have to look at staging AFL games in places like Epping and Fairfield, to pull the crowds.
Else, the AFL had better watch out. There are more than a billion Indians and loads of them are here.
You’ll soon have more Indian-bashing than the eight weekend games which the AFL stages. And remember – while Australian Rules is a winter game, Indian-bashing knows no seasons.