This weekend should be for celebrating what’s good in Australian sport. Mostly, that means sitting up into the small hours waiting for Ash Barty, the Matildas and the men’s cricket team strut their stuff. At least in our lounge rooms, crowd behaviour won’t be an issue. It’s the space in which no-one can hear you scream.
But while we’re waiting, let’s revisit the footy grandstands and all the seething and indignation, and remember where and how the furore began. The early season was marred by a series of brawls between fans inside stadiums. Perhaps they were more frequent than previously, perhaps simply more seen because of smart phones and social media. To the innocents caught up in them, even one was one too many.
A common complaint was that security were slow to react. Duly, security reacted more quickly, then over-reacted. The AFL found itself trying to control crowds, control crowd controllers, and control the uncontrollable crowd on media, social and otherwise. CEO Gil McLachlan was slow to react, and Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett over-reacted and so cruelled his own argument, and words flew, and the seething and indignation grew, and everyone booed someone else and all booed the AFL. Booing has become a self-contained sport.
But (and I’m writing this from under a bed) it would be disingenuous not to admit that there is an issue. There is an ugly element out there, and it can be overbearing. It might be endemic in sports crowds, but that doesn’t mean it should be shrugged off. In Australia, to “barrack” used to mean for a team or cause, in the rest of the world against. Now the distinction is less clear.