We have the game covered.

Can we please call off the childish cultural code wars?

(Left to right): International Rules, Australian soccer and the rugby league World Cup. Can’t we just enjoy them all? Photos: GETTY IMAGES

Can we please call off the childish cultural code wars?

Rohan Connolly    

In the newspaper game a long while ago, we used to refer to the Christmas-New Year period as the “silly season”.

They were a couple of weeks when finding material to fill the pages was harder than ever, the wheels of industry and government temporarily halted and seemingly 90 per cent of the population taking a sabbatical.

They were desperate times for editors, when on a blistering summer’s day a junior reporter might be dispatched for a walk around the CBD with a photographer and a carton of eggs to see upon just how many surfaces one could be fried.

Sport remained the one exception to the silly season rule, with a Test cricket series usually at its critical point before the Boxing Day and New Year Tests, and the lead-up tournaments to the Australian Open tennis boasting enough highly-ranked stars.

They were the times before domestic soccer moved to a summer season and the sports calendar became crammed full of a variety of matches and occasions leaving barely a gap over 365 days.

This year, there’s even more packed in. Whilst the AFL and NRL seasons are long finished and the Spring Carnival is over, there’s a crucial World Cup qualifier for the Socceroos going on right now, a Rugby League World Cup in our own backyard, an International Rules series against Ireland, and a women’s cricket Ashes series all underway.

Somehow, despite all that, among the older generations Australian sport seems to have given rise to its own silly season. And mid-November appears to be it.

About this time every year, the sporting conversation in this country appears to lapse into a particularly childish and futile “code wars” discussion, where older zealots of every sporting persuasion beat their chests about their own football of choice while denigrating those on which they’re not so keen like some sort of fight to the death.

Most of it consists of half-baked generalisations, tired old stereotypes and complete rubbish. Most of all, though, it operates from a premise which was an anachronism even 20 years ago, let alone now – that you’re either with us or against us.

It’s been in overdrive the past week. I’m a fan of the International Rules concept, not because of any great meaning attached to the Australia-Ireland clashes, which are essentially exhibition affairs, but because purely as a spectacle I find it fast, skilful and entertaining.

But every time the series is played, it comes up against the same backdrop of cat-calling about “what’s the point?” even from AFL fans and commentators, who for some reason seem to find the alternative speculation about at which club a star player may be plying his trade 18 months from now somehow more interesting.

Australia’s 0-0 draw with Honduras on Saturday morning, meanwhile, was the cue for another round of sneers about games without a goal, missing the important fact that it was a two-leg affair and that the Socceroos probably should have scored at least three times.

The rugby league World Cup has turned on some highly entertaining games between nations we don’t often get to see and some we do. But even some hardcore league fans, it seems, can’t resist talking it down.

And there’s been a seeming spike in those tired old jibes about “wogball”, “gayFL” etc. etc. more at home in a school playground than in conversation between so-called adults on social media.

The modern mainstream media’s penchant for controversial clickbait ahead of reasoned analysis hardly helps, either, a half-baked “hot take” easier, less time-consuming and more likely to breed a spate of follow-up ill-tempered reactions.

It’s all pretty childish stuff. Which is ironic, really. Because a generation of actual children and younger sports fans, all the while, are probably shaking their heads in bemusement. For them, “code wars” must seem like a whole bunch of old men yelling at clouds.

Younger sports fans in this country have grown up with world class sport on their TV screens year-round, their time and energies divided in equal measures among teams in each of those disciplines, an allegiance to one code hardly meaning antipathy to another.

Ask one of the older types doing the name-calling who they support and you’re quite likely to get a one-word response, be it an AFL, NRL or A-League team. Ask a young sports fanatic who they support and you might get a dozen team names.

And such is the accessibility to and quality of coverage of all of them now that a kid growing up in Melbourne might have just as many opportunities for an insight into the fortunes of Chelsea or Barcelona as he does Carlton or Collingwood.

The success of one code in this country doesn’t have to be at the expense of another. In fact, given the open-mindedness of the younger generations, who is to say it can’t actually boost interest and participation in them all?

While their grandparents and parents continue carrying on this silly season “cock fight” of “my game’s better than yours”, they simply sit back and enjoy all the action, free of stupid prejudices and appreciating sporting contests for the entertainment they provide, not as another round of a sporting cultural war.

With more quality sport coming at us than ever before, and in Australia right now a greater chance than ever to watch much of it live, we’re fortunate indeed. It’s just a pity more sporting code evangelists can’t remove the sizeable chips from their shoulders and realise it.

*This article first appeared at SPORTING NEWS AUSTRALIA

1 Comment
  1. I don’t understand the need people have to degrade other codes they don’t like – I enjoy AFL, but understand that it’s not for everyone. I will watch parts of the other football codes, but just can’t really get into them with any passion. Doesn’t mean I go round bagging people for what they’re passionate about though. Watch what you want to watch. Don’t watch what you don’t want to watch. Let people enjoy their sporting passions without making them feel stupid.

Leave a Reply