532 Words on: Football and nationalism

Loving football but not loving nationalism can be a difficult line to walk for a leftie football fan. The game we love is built around identity. We’re expected to have pride in the colours of our clubs and of our countries. Wearing the shirt. Singing the anthem. Proving that your clan is superior to others… It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye.

We used to think we were immune from extreme political ideologies in New Zealand, but on Friday that illusion was shattered. People have been asking how this was possible in our liberal, tolerant little enclave of inclusion as we all rush to put “this is not us” frames on our Facebook profile pictures. But the thing is, acts like this don’t happen in a vacuum. There are some things that we as a nation should examine in the aftermath of the terrorist attack and ask ourselves if there are some changes we need to make, both as a nation and as a football community.

You don’t have to delve too deep into places like the Northern League Forum, where people can say whatever they want in the safety of complete anonymity, to find examples of racism, sexism and homophobia that betray what many of us really think when we are not anticipating any consequences. Not to mention some of the things you hear on the sidelines. And in my experience calling these things out only results in people closing ranks to protect their own, minimise the behaviour and sweep the problem under the carpet.

Then there’s the borderline xenophobia you hear when club teams fielding foreign players is up for discussion. Auckland City get criticised for it a lot. It smacks of the sort of irrational fears that ‘immigrants are taking over’ you hear from members of the National Front even though it’s not usually intended as such.

Last year’s Football Ferns saga saw some seriously disturbing elements creep in too. The embattled coach was referred to in at least one media story as an “Austrian football dictator”. You don’t have to be a cryptographer to decipher the inference of that. Not to mention the way Heraf’s ‘foreignness’ was constantly referred to as a negative by all and sundry.

On a more macro level, it often makes me feel a bit yuck when people talk about things like “kiwi spirit” as attributes in the sporting arena. We seem to think we’re some kind of master race when it comes to grit, determination and punching above our weight – when in reality everyone prides themselves on these things. Some of these examples might not seem like much in isolation, but stuff like that can fuel the belief in some that their tribe is a level above when in fact we’re all just people.

And if we are serious about “this is not us” then we should cut the “this is all just PC gone mad” crap and do everything we can to make our country truly safe for everyone. Words matter. The wounds of what happened in Christchurch will take a long time to heal but they say the first step towards recovery is admitting you’ve got a problem.