Foolish, but not racist
Was Kevin Sheedy being racist or anti-football - or did his poor choice of words simply reveal his perception of why AFL has been unable to match the impact of the Wanderers?
“We don't have the recruiting officer called the immigration department recruiting fans for the West Sydney Wanderers. We don't have that on our side."
Is that a racist statement? Is it anti-football? Or is it a poor choice of words that reveals Kevin Sheedy-s perception of why AFL is struggling in western Sydney?
Sheedy, the old soldier who should know better, somehow managed to kick off another round of hostilities in the battle lines between Australia-s sporting codes by shooting himself in the foot.
FFA CEO David Gallop got it right when he called Sheedy's comment's "clumsy".
Let me admit two things: I-m an immigrant and I know next to nothing about AFL. If I was living in western Sydney, which team would I go for? The Wanderers, all day. Why? Because football was part of my life before I came to Australia, and I love and understand the game.
Isn-t that what Sheedy said, even if his delivery was ill-judged? His statement contained no references to ethnicity or any derogatory references to football.
He was admitting that GWS will struggle to match the Wanderers- fan base because of football-s popularity as a global sport. He was admitting his code and club is on the back foot in this fiercely competitive market.
Is this news to anyone? The Giants were always going to struggle in western Sydney, everyone knew this before the franchise came into existence.
Even the 2009 senate report into the club-s viability noted there were “cultural barriers facing a western Sydney-based AFL team that appear to be insurmountable.” That is one of the reasons the code wanted to expand into the region, to station a lonely outpost within enemy territory.
Perhaps it is Sheedy-s definition of an immigrant that let him down. It-s not like western Sydney is alone in having vibrant immigrant communities, Australia is built on them. And it-s not like there aren't any immigrants in Melbourne who love AFL.
But he was identifying recent additions to our nation. And anyone who has spent any time in western Sydney knows there are a wide range of nationalities and cultures in the area, some very new to the country but many second, third or even fourth generation, for whom football has a historical resonance and represents a quick and positive way to connect with the local community, which boasts its own rich ties to the round ball.
Perhaps comparing GWS-s paltry 5830 fans to the Wanderers- headline-making debut season sent shivers down the spines of those at the AFL.
How much of the code-s billions has been ploughed into trying to make the club a success? Andrew Demetriou and co know how much it will take to expand their game into new ground, which is why GWS took so long to get off the ground, while the Wanderers were up and running in a matter of weeks.
Sheedy-s “S**t my Dad says” moment was enough to raise the ire of the football community, however. A community that, in my opinion, is often far too thin-skinned. Sheedy was not attacking football. Nor was he denigrating its fans or being racist.
He was, in essence, admitting what every football fan in this country have been calling out for years: football is the world game and AFL can-t match that appeal once it strays beyond the borders of the few small territories the code holds here.
As Australia-s population continues to grow and diversify, we will see that happening more and more. Football is already strong in Australia and as more people come from countries where AFL is unknown, western Sydney might just be the first signs of a larger movement. One that Kevin Sheedy knows he can-t win.