Traditions Outdated in Sport
By Sam Squiers
Tradition binds sport, it’s what provides us with our history, our sense of belonging and security. It defines our identity and writes our folklore.
But it shouldn’t be protected at all costs.
There have been a number of incidents in different codes recently that have rattled the foundations of the institutions that govern our sporting bodies.
In the U.S, NFL side the Washington Redskins are being forced make a decision they can no longer avoid. For 81 years their nickname has caused heated debate with it considered a derogatory and racist term to describe America’s native Indians. There have been protests and even lawsuits in a bid to have the name changed but it’s again in the spotlight, with many high profile sports journalists and commentators now refusing to call the team by their nickname in their reports and calls, instead referring to them solely as Washington.
Some supporters in Washington’s fan base argue the nickname “Redskins” pays tribute to the country’s native Indians but there’s no hiding others find it deeply offensive. It’s no longer a defence to claim it’s simply tradition and a part of the club’s history and identity to keep the status quo. It causes hurt and offense to a group of people and that should be enough motivation to take action.
Washington has the opportunity to do something really special here, to create a
moment in history and to catalyse social change. Finally dropping the nickname would say and do more in unifying our multi-racial society than sticking with the same name for tradition’s sake.
Closer to home, Cricket Australia’s decision to allow Pakistani-born spin sensation Fawad Ahmed to wear an Australian shirt without the VB logo in the one-day series against England has been a big talking point in cricket circles. CA approached Ahmed to ask him if he was comfortable with promoting the alcohol brand on his shirt, knowing that it could conflict with his Islamic beliefs.
Many lashed out publicly at the decision, including test great Doug Walters who responded by saying if Fawad didn’t like wearing the uniform, he shouldn’t be a part of the team. Rugby Union great David Campese, whose comments are never short of controversy, supported Walters’ stand adding on twitter.
“If you don’t like the VB uniform, don’t play for Australia. Well said Doug. Tell him to go home.”
Cricket Australia approached Ahmed and supported his preference not to wear the alcoholic brand, as were his teammates and the sponsor themselves. The only people who did have a problem were those who saw it as an attack on the long-standing traditions of our great game. No one had ever been granted permission to wear an altered uniform on religious grounds before. It wasn’t a reason these people could understand nor relate to therefore it was quickly shot down with some suggestions he shouldn’t be paid if he wasn’t promoting the sponsor.
The option granted to Fawad was a pro-active move by Cricket Australia to be more sensitive, inclusive and keep up with the changing times that have seen the development of our multi-cultural society.
It’s amazing the power of sport to change the way society thinks and the social norms of the time. Looking back in history, there have been numerous examples of sport becoming the vehicle for social change. It galvanised and united the people of South Africa during the 1995 Rugby World Cup in a tough post-apartheid period when it hosted and won the prestigious event. Sport also helped bring national pride to the people of Germany when they hosted the 2006 Football World Cup. Prior to that, it was a nation still haunted with collective sense of guilt so something as simple as waving a German flag was socially taboo. To many Germans it symbolized nationalism and with it associations with their dark Nazi past. But that all changed almost overnight at the World Cup, flags started flying and national sentiment was at an all time high as their footballers united the nation.
It’s an educational tool too, Australia listened when Swans star Adam Goodes’ spoke of the hurt and offense caused when a 13-year-old girl called him an ape during a game earlier this year. With incredible dignity and grace, he urged society not to condemn the girl but to educate our children and each other, sending a powerful message that racism in any form won’t be tolerated and should be stamped out collectively.
When sport takes a stand, it has widespread influence.
If traditions were never supposed to evolve with society we wouldn’t have women competing, we wouldn’t have a World Cup, Olympics, professionalism and safer regulations. Tradition isn’t about staying the same, it’s about being inclusive. To do that it needs to change.