You don’t have to travel to distant shores to experience culture shock, you can find it right here in Oz. I found this out one Grand Final weekend...wait, I should clarify, one AFL Grand Final weekend. Here in Victoria, it’s a BIG deal. Everyone, footy fan or not, is talking about it, it’s all over the news—to the point of making you wish the game had never been invented—and the weekend itself is now literally a public holiday.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the whole nation is caught up in finals fever, a perception the AFL does its best to encourage as they continue to try and position themselves as a national sport, not a Victorian one. But, for a whole section of the country it doesn’t even register—just like the rugby finals for many of us, or soccer for the vast majority!
Given how woven into the fabric of Victorian culture it is, it is easy to just take it for granted that everyone feels the same, if you even give it any thought. For me, the culture shock came when I went to Canberra for a conference on Grand Final weekend. The day of the game I expected it to be on every TV screen, with people sitting around watching it as they ate and drink.
Instead I started to wonder if I had gotten my dates mixed up, such was the complete absence of any buzz. When I asked a friend about it, he just smiled and said, “You should see what it’s like on the REAL grand final weekend”.
It was one of those moments where you suddenly see the world in a whole new light, and discover that people can feel just as strongly about something as you do, or see something as the natural order of things...and not agree with you. It doesn’t mean you can’t have your own opinions, it just means that you put yourself in their shoes and make yourself the centre of the universe.
The sports that divide a nation?
As a Victorian, it’s not surprising that my knowledge of both League and Union is fairly limited. Despite both rugby and Aussie Rules having ambitions to being truly national sports, for a long time it has been one of the great divisions in Australian society. Depending on where you grew up you would follow one code, and take little interest in the other.
While the success (often heavily subsidised in an almost evangelical desire to open new markets) of various interstate teams in winning premierships—see the Sydney Swans and Melbourne Storm for examples—and the way in which television makes geography less of a factor means that each code has made inroads into the other’s traditional territory, there is no doubt that they still reign supreme in their own heartlands.
Convicted without trial
For me, it meant that I never even took an interest in rugby, writing it off as AFL’s poor cousin, and shaking my head in bewilderment at what I saw as incomprehensible and illogical rules. All that changed, though, when I sat down with an out of state friend to watch my first full game of NRL.
It wasn’t just having someone next to me to explain the rules, though that certainly helped, it was seeing their passion for the game. I found myself getting excited despite myself, and it saw me putting aside my preconceptions and actually giving the sport a chance.
I was surprised by how much I ended up enjoying it once I was able to see the strengths of the game and at least slightly understand the rules. It made me realise why so many people enjoy watching rugby so much, and meant that it was no longer an automatic change of the channel for me. Since then I’ve experienced the same change of heart with other sports, including gridiron and baseball—seeing a game of baseball live was an eye opener.
Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it
My belief that these sports were boring, or not worth my time, weren’t based on any actual experience or knowledge, simply biases that I’d formed and never taken the time to actually test. It’s easy to absorb the opinion of everyone around you and accept truths that everyone simple takes for granted—but it can mean missing out on a whole lot of the best things in life.
Whether it’s sports or politics or religion, it’s worth taking the time to find out for ourselves. Instead of taking the word of those inclined to be biased perhaps we should spend some time listening to people who are enthusiastic and knowledgeable and see what we can learn, just like I did with my rugby loving friend. Who knows what we might discover?
David Goodwin is the former Editor of The Salvation Army’s magazine,War Cry. He is also a cricket tragic, and an unapologetic geek.
David Goodwin archive of articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/david-goodwin.html