Goodes fight that gripped Aus­tralia

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Racing - Alan Ty­ers

The Aus­tralian Dream is a bril­liant doc­u­men­tary, shown re­cently on the BBC and avail­able on iPlayer; I com­mend it to you with­out reser­va­tion.

It is the story of Adam Goodes, an Aus­tralian rules football star of Abo­rig­i­nal de­scent who be­came the

Raw deal: Adam Goodes, who is of Abo­rig­i­nal de­scent, was booed by AFL crowds af­ter be­ing abused by a 13-year-old fan light­ning rod for a na­tional con­ver­sa­tion in that coun­try about his­tory, racism, repa­ra­tion and iden­tity.

Like many sports fans in the UK, per­haps, my knowl­edge of AFL is lim­ited to: the one with the rugby-type ball, you can bounce it with your hand, you kick it through the posts, looks en­joy­ably vi­o­lent to watch, they wear those old-timey sin­glets, and hav­ing a mous­tache is no bar­rier to en­try.

Goodes, even to the un­tu­tored eye, seems to have been ex­cep­tional: tremen­dous ball han­dling and jump­ing, nerve­less shoot­ing, pace, vast wells of de­ter­mi­na­tion. In one cup fi­nal, he rup­tures his pos­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment in the first half, has it strapped at half-time, and wins the cup with a piece of in­di­vid­ual bril­liance in the last sec­onds.

On the in­tan­gi­bles front, it would seem he de­vel­oped from a shy coun­try boy into a leader of his team, the Syd­ney Swans. He is a two-time win­ner of the Brown­low Medal for the “best and fairest” player in the league, and looks the sort of good bloke Aus­tralia would take to its bo­som.

How­ever, in 2014, a sup­porter of ri­val side Collingwoo­d called him “an ape” dur­ing a match. Goodes pointed her out to se­cu­rity, and she was ejected. It turned out his abuser was a 13-year-old girl.

In the film’s telling, Goodes han­dled the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math with grace and con­sid­er­able gen­eros­ity: telling the me­dia he was upset, but “it is not her fault, she is a kid”, and invit­ing peo­ple to con­sider what so­ci­etal forces would cause a child to think and say that.

One Ed­die McGuire, the pres­i­dent of Collingwoo­d Football Club, apol­o­gised right away to Goodes in the dress­ing room on

be­half of the club, no place in our game, etc … then went on ra­dio a cou­ple of days later sug­gest­ing that Goodes might be a use­ful pro­mo­tional tie-in for the film King Kong.

Re­cast as the man who bul­lied a child, Goodes be­came a tar­get for fans, who through­out the next sea­son booed his ev­ery touch as the story took on a life of its own to turn into a spec­ta­cle that gripped the na­tional con­ver­sa­tion.

A par­tic­u­lar success of the doc­u­men­tary is to un­pack all this in a way that is at once lo­cal, and on the other hand uni­ver­sal. The film sug­gests there is some­thing par­tic­u­lar to Aus­tralia and Aus­tralians about this: the idea of the right to a noisy opin­ion, do not show weak­ness, hard men never take a back­ward step, all’s fair in love and sport. It seems ev­ery Aus­tralian had a view about the boo­ing. Shane Warne, at the time, com­mented: “I don’t think what they’re do­ing to Adam Goodes is racist. What the crowds are do­ing, that’s their pre­rog­a­tive.”

Others felt it very much was racist. Jour­nal­ist Stan Grant, cred­ited as the writer of the film, said: “Peo­ple don’t like the an­gry Aborigine: it re­minds us of some­thing in the past we don’t want to be re­minded of.”

That past, again per­haps not that well un­der­stood in this coun­try, is one of conquest, dis­pos­ses­sion, rape, mur­der and a de­lib­er­ate at­tempt to breed indige­nous genes out of the pool set in train by Bri­tain pitch­ing up and declar­ing the land “terra nul­lius” – no­body’s land, and thus up for grabs. Bad news for a peo­ple who had lived there for 65,000 years.

The wretched “it was 200 years ago, get over it” crowd are rep­re­sented here by the colum­nist An­drew Bolt, a sort of Aus­tralian Katie Hop­kins, of whom there is more than enough in this film.

Twice as likely to die be­fore the age of five, twice as likely to be born at low birth weight, liv­ing shorter lives, as well as all the dis­crim­i­na­tion from so­ci­ety and in the eyes of the law fa­mil­iar to black peo­ple glob­ally, the indige­nous peo­ples of that coun­try and their de­scen­dants are liv­ing the trauma to­day.

I do not know if it would have been pos­si­ble to find some­one a lit­tle less un­ap­peal­ing than Bolt to of­fer coun­ter­point to the ar­gu­ment from Goodes and Grant that his boo­ing hap­pened be­cause of that and in that con­text, but for most rea­son­able view­ers, surely, there is only one team in it.

He pointed out the fan who called him ‘an ape’ and she was ejected. It turned out she was 13 years old

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.