A column about football and multiculturalism

Like most of the planet, I’m unable to think of anything other than football at the moment. I’ve become so obsessed that I’m even typing this during the clash between those footballing powerhouses Ecuador and Costa Rica. So apologies to anyone who’s sick to death of it, and I promise I’ll write about something else next time. Well, unless the Socceroos make the second round.

And they might just. Because a strange thing’s happened to our football team. They qualified over Uruguay through determination and luck more than anything else, and I wasn’t expecting much more from them. But then they beat Greece and drew with Holland in the friendlies, and I started to suspect something was up. Could it be that despite the sport’s obscurity here, our years of qualification heartbreak and Mark Viduka’s innovative non-score approach to the ‘striker’ position, our football team is actually quite good?

The first match against Japan certainly silenced the doubters. At least, the last ten minutes of it did – their moans were pretty loud after the Japanese ‘goal’ in the pub where I was watching. I would have thought Australians would have been more likely to confuse the sport for rugby than Japan’s two forwards. But the controversy laid the foundations for an absolutely incredible finish.

What on earth has Guus Hiddink done to that team? The man is an absolute magician. Perhaps he could even save the Labor Party.

Speaking of which, let me join with the ever opportunistic Anthony Albanese by pointing out that dual goalscoring hero Tim Cahill is a Balmain boy. Yes, that’s right – he grew up here. Of course, he had to leave here and move to the UK to make it as a footballer, but let’s not focus on that. Let’s also not focus on his cynical tackle that might have conceded a penalty. Cahill is a genuine local hero. Let’s hope he drops by sometime.

But I’m hugely proud of the Socceroos, so much so that I went out to blow $130 on their somewhat garish shirt. And one of the things that make me proudest is how the team is showcasing Australia’s multiculturalism. Surnames like Culina, Schwarzer, Aloisi and Viduka demonstrate the diverse, harmonious society we’ve built. Finally, after Pauline Hanson and Cronulla, we’re projecting a positive image of Australia as a multiracial society.

I couldn’t help noticing what a stark contrast the Socceroo lineup made with monocultural Japan, which has always discouraged immigration – except, it seems, of Brazilians such as their one non-Asian player, Alex. Brazilian-born players are representing 4 other nations at the Cup, and I’m astonished we haven’t any. What’s DIMIA doing?

English football has been consumed by debates over nationality this year, with many commentators slamming Champions League finalists Arsenal for fielding teams without a single English player. The bottom line is that, as the fans increasingly are coming to understand, it just doesn’t matter. Most Arsenal fans don’t care where their team comes from as long as it plays well – and the adulation of captain Thierry Henry is an example of this. A Frenchman has surely never been so popular in London.

Putting its sometimes racist past behind it, football is increasingly becoming a completely global game. Ethnic origins are coming to matter far less than identification. And even though many Socceroos come from migrant families, and have themselves migrated overseas to work, they are distinctively Australian. And they reflect the wonderful diversity of this country, where ethnic backgrounds are celebrated, but ethnic divisions are de-emphasised. There could be no better representatives of the melting-pot that is modern Australia, and I hope they know that the entire country is behind them. At least until they’re knocked out. After all, we are Australian.

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