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The wider significance of soccer

By Tanveer Ahmed - posted Monday, 3 July 2006

While Australia is one of the most successful multicultural societies in the world, it is rare that its disparate ethnic and religious groups feel united for a common cause or movement.

There are exceptions, such as our protests against the Iraqi invasion, but we are usually content to be tolerant and respectful, a worthy achievement in itself.

Nowhere is this more apparent that in the realm of sport, the arena of human endeavour upon which so much of the Australian narrative is built.


From Bradman to Phar Lap to the America's Cup, there are few other nations whose story is built so much upon sporting triumph.

While some may see this as a negative or deride it as anti-intellectual, it reflects our egalitarian spirit and sense of ourselves as a small nation that achieves well above its station on the world stage. Sport is merely the most accessible form but it is also a symbol for our achievements in science, business, academia or culture.

However, our societal divisions are also most apparent in the realms of sport, with few uniting all social groups. Rugby, league and Australian rules have their own distinct tribes.

If you go to a rugby game, you can be sure that the dominant audience in the crowd will be derived from the professional and managerial classes, sipping wine, peering occasionally towards the electronic scoreboard while casually discussing the performance of their share portfolio.

Go to a rugby league game, the dominant groups will be working class. More beer will be drunk, there will be more swearing and there will be more mullet haircuts.

Never mind that Russell Crowe and Peter Holmes a Court have bought into the game. This has more to with Crowe's misguided grandiosity about becoming a working-class hero.


Australian rules does unite social groups in Victoria and some other states, where everyone from the street sweeper to the premier has an opinion on team selection or refereeing.

But its presence in the most populous state is negligible and therefore its overall significance dimmed.

Furthermore, on an international level, nobody else plays it and attempts at forging an international flavour are limited to a rather pathetic game against the Irish.

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First published in The Courier-Mail on June 28, 2006.

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About the Author

Dr Tanveer Ahmed is a psychiatrist, author and local councillor. His first book is a migration memoir called The Exotic Rissole. He is a former SBS journalist, Fairfax columnist and writes for a wide range of local and international publications.
He was elected to Canada Bay Council in 2012. He practises in western Sydney and rural NSW.

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