Saturday, 22 June 2013

Review: Sheilas, wogs & poofters

Submitted for publication to Green Left Weekly

A late header from lanky striker Josh Kennedy ensured Australia beat Iraq 1-0 in their final qualifier match for the 2014 World Cup, guaranteeing the Socceroos a ticket to Brazil.
Some 80,532 supporters filled a sold-out ANZ Stadium, the largest crowd for the national men's team in soccer (football to most of the world) since the 2005 qualifying match against Uruguay in the same venue.
Despite being their team being at bottom of the table, out of contention for 2014, and wracked by disagreements between players and their federation, about 5000 Iraqi fans overflowed the away bays, at times outshining the Australian fans.
A protest group calling for Socceroo fans to chant “peace for Iraq”, in recognition of Australia's role in the devastating war on the Middle East nation gained national media attention, but received no official mention on the night.

The Socceroos third straight qualification for the World Cup is a world of change from a decade earlier, when Johnny Warren's account of the game and his experiences in it ― Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters ― was first released.

Warren was vice-captain of the first Australian team to qualify for the World Cup, in West Germany in 1974. However, it is as much for his media work and advocacy for the game in Australia, during the 30 years of struggles and setbacks that followed, that he is remembered as “Captain Socceroo”.

Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters gives a harrowing account of the mistakes and misfortune that plagued the Socceroos and football in Australia through these long years.

Warren didn't live to see Australia return to Germany and the world stage in 2006. After being diagnosed with lung cancer, Warren passed away on November 6, 2004. In tribute, the SBS broadcast of the 2006 World Cup featured Warren's defiant phrase, “I Told You So”, in the backdrop.
The book features Warren's insider view of Australian football culture from the 1950s to today. Warren's own career features heavily, starting in his home suburb of Botany in Sydney's east, before moving to Canterbury-Marrickville in 1959.

The highlight of Warren's career was his 12 years at St George Budapest, a club formed by Hungarian migrants after World War II. The club was the core of the Socceroos in 1974, with Warren one of 10 St George players named in the squad.

His success at St George provides a fascinating look at the formative years of modern football in Australia. As a player, captain, coach and media figure, Warren constantly struggled to broaden the appeal of the game beyond the migrant clubs and dislodge common prejudices against the game.

These prejudices are referenced in the title ― “Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters”. Warren explained the references to sexism, racism and homophobia: “If it does offend in 21st century Australia then you can imagine what it was like fifty years ago. 'Sheilas', 'wogs' and 'poofters' were considered the second class citizens of the day, and if you played soccer you were considered one of them.”

Warren said such prejudices were responsible for sporting discrimination into the 21st century, with mainstream media and institutions far more willing to promote other football codes.
It is an attitude epitomised by the racist comments of Kevin Sheedy, coach of the AFL's Greater Western Sydney Giants. Sheedy tried to explain the poor following for the AFL expansion club on May 12 by complaining that, unlike the A-League's successful first-year team, the Western Sydney Wanderers, the Giants didn't have “the immigration department” acting as “a recruiting officer”.

But the widespread outrage at Sheedy's comments reflects that these prejudices have weakened. So too does the fact that 80,000 people braved pouring rain at Olympic Park for the June qualifier match.
The last season of the A-League, Australia's top level of football, drew record levels of attendance and television ratings.

There are issues with the prose of Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters, but the book remains a great read for the honest insider stories of the game's difficult history in Australia.
As fans of the world game look forward to Brazil 2014, Warren's book deserves to be re-read. Chapter 16, for instance, deals with Warren's experiences in Latin America and the footballing relationship between Australia and Brazil.
In light of the huge protests that erupted in Brazil, sparked by the government's attacks on the poor ahead of the next year's Cup, the analysis of Brazil's football culture helps towards understanding the contradictions of corporatised sport.

Sheilas, Wogs & Poofters: An Incomplete Biography of Johnny Warren & Soccer in Australia
Johnny Warren with Andy Harper & Josh Whittington
Random House Australia, 2002

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Tonight I'm singing for the Socceroos

Tonight I'm singing for the Socceroos. Although I won't be leaving my club colours at the door, I'll be cheering, singing and waving my flag for the socceroos - even players like Milligan and Thompson.

Why? Not for jingoistic fervour or in defence of Australian nationalism. Cheering to get one up over our opponents from Iraq, and demonising them to do so, is incompatible with my values and those of the world game. Indeed, those using the opportunity to apologise for Australia's participation in the 2003 Iraq War should be commended.

Those who seek to steer the beautiful game towards close-minded nationalism, and who revel in the opportunities presented by our dominance in other sports to mock the global south or the "whinging poms", are often the very same voices who alternate between belittling and demonising the game and its supporters in its domestic incarnation.

It's because the game brings out the best in our society that I'll be singing for the Socceroos. The history of 'soccer' in this country is as much a history of the struggle against racism and towards multiculturalist values as it is of sporting contests. This spirit is encapsulated by SBS's The World Game - never demonising our opponents, but always respecting them as worthy adversaries.

To sing for the Socceroos is to sing for legends like Johnny Warren, both a legendary player and figure who pushed us to accept new migrants of the 20th century. It's to prove him right, that he told us so.

It's to sing for Charlie Perkins, footballer and legendary Aboriginal activist who Warren worked with as coach of Canberra. Perkins was first accepted as fully human and deserving of rights by migrant football clubs; my local National Premier League club, Sydney Olympic, paid his way through his studies at the University of Sydney, where he participated in the Freedom Rides.

It's to sing for Kyah Simon, captain of Sydney FC's victorious W-league team, and the first indigenous Australian to score in a world cup (let's hope Jade North joins her this time round!) - and to sing for the Matildas and their victory over the Ferns last week, and the developing level of women's football in Australia.

And it's to sing for the latest generation of stars like Lucas Neill, who refused to take even a minute answering questions for Fox Sports last Thursday in order to have more time to speak to the thousands of fans who turned up to an open training session at Kogarah. This may be his last time round at the World Cup, but I'm sure his role in the game, and our national discourse, is far from over.

Every bit of success for the Socceroos helps boost the beautiful game's place in Australia, helps dispel the bigoted thinking of the past about it, and helps to cement our place in the football world.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Tunisia: Government in crisis as uproar over killing spreads

Putting up some of my writing from Tunisia's February crisis. Originally published by Green Left Weekly.

The assassination of left-wing leader Chokri Belaid has thrown the interim government of Tunisia, led by Islamist party Ennahda (the Renaissance), into a deep crisis. Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali has threatened to resign if his proposed "technocratic" solution can't be implemented.

The death of Belaid, a well-respected leader of the united left group Popular Front, led to widespread protests, including tens of thousands on the streets of Tunis for his memorial on February 8.

Jebali, a member of Ennahda, responded to the crisis by proposing a government of “technocrats”, like the one that ruled after the resignation of PM Mohamed Ghannouchi in February 2011. Such a government would hurry the writing of the new constitution, now in the hands of the Constituent Assembly (CA), and organise new elections.

This move has put him at odds with Ennahda party leaders. Fethi Ayadi, president of Ennahdha party's Shura Council, told Express FM radio on February 11 that the party opposes Jebali's proposition.

Protesters were quick to blame Ennahda for Belaid's assassination. Party headquarters were attacked with stones and Molotov cocktails across the country. As yet, the killers have not been identified by police.

On February 11, journalist Zied El Heni reported "very serious information" concerning the assassination, including the names of government members, to the tribunal into Belaid's death in Tunis, reported Mosaique FM radio.

A February 8 editorial in the British Guardian, however, argued that Ennahda would not benefit from the killing of Belaid. Instead, it identified ex-members of the RCD, dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's party, as being in a position to profit.

On the day Belaid was assassinated, the assembly was due to debate a measure designed to bar former RCD members from office for five years.

However, The Guardian’s defence of Ennahda papers over the party’s inability to reform the security apparatus or effectively deal with political violence. Belaid had told the interior ministry of threats against his life weeks before his death, yet no action was taken, Al Monitor said on February 10.

A new report on Tunisia issued by the International Crisis Group on February 13 identified Ennahda’s inability to rein in political violence as a major issue.

In the absence of an appropriate answer by the authorities and the dominant Islamist party, violence in all its shades "whether tied to social, demographic, urban, political, or religious causes", could well cross a perilous threshold, the report said.

The ICG identified three key areas where action needs to be taken to address violence and discontent: the marginalisation of young, poor Tunisians; the debate between secular and religious forces in the CA; and the movement of jihadi fighers throughout the region.

However, this fails to get to the root of the discontent with the interim government's inability to fulfil the demands of the January 14 revolution.

In a Le Temps piece he authored several weeks before his death, Belaid said: “Two years after the outbreak of the Revolution its... causes are still there. They have deepened, whether at the level of social demands, employment, regional development, social justice or political reality.

"Tunisia is opening a second page in the revolutionary process, against the despotic Ennahda project protecting corruption and consecrating dependency."

A key part of this “second page” has been regional uprisings in interior regions of Sidi Bouzid and Siliana.

Hamma Hammami, spokesperson of the Popular Front, told Express FM Radio on February 13 the Front rejected Jebali's proposal for a technocratic government. It instead proposed a government of “national unity”.

Hammami said the tasks of such a government should include the review of Belaid's case, developing a timeline for the next elections, the establishment of social peace through measures to reduce the high cost of living, job creation, taxing large fortunes, and suspension of foreign debt repayment for two to three years.

Tunisia: Rage as leftist leader killed

Putting up some of my writing from Tunisia's February crisis. Originally published by Green Left Weekly

Furious protests have exploded onto Tunisia's streets and a general strike has been called after the assassination of left-wing politician and lawyer Chokri Belaid on February 6.

Belaid was head of the far-left Party of Democratic Patriots (PPD). His killing is Tunisia's first reported political assassination since independence.

Belaid was gunned down outside his home. Only 12 hours before, he publicly denounced "attempts to dismantle the state and the creation of militias to terrorise citizens and drag the country into a spiral of violence", Al Ahram said on February 6.

Belaid's brother Abdelmajid told AFP: “I accuse Rached Ghannouchi [leader of the Islamist Ennahda party] of assassinating my brother.”

Although no suspects have been identified by police, most demonstrators agreed with him, with chants such as "Get out!" and others targeting the party and its leaders.

Zied El Heni, a member of the Union of Journalists, accused Mehrez Zouari, an interior ministry official, of setting up a death squad responsible for the death of Belaid, Tunisia Live said on February 8.

A recent report by Human Rights Watch cited a "failure to investigate and prosecute physical assaults by people apparently affiliated with violent groups" from the government.

These groups include the League for the Protection of the Revolution, which assaulted the headquarters of the main union federation, the UGTT, in December.

Although party leaders have denied links, the Tunisian opposition widely regards the League militias as enforcers for Ennahda.

Afer Belaid's assassination, thousands of people rallied outside the headquarters of the interior ministry and other places on February 7 and 8, confronting tear gas and police assault.

Protests spread across all major regional cities and towns, with a general strike in Siliana on February 8. Headquarters of the Ennahda party were attacked in several places.

Siliana was the scene of a regional uprising late last year demanding regional investment, job creation and political agency. Belaid took part in the protests, promoting interior minister Ali Larayedh to accuse him of "stirring up trouble".

The PPD was one of 12 parties that united in October to form the Popular Front. The PF has been active in trade unions and social struggle; the UGTT leadership is largely comprised of PF leaders.
Belaid's funeral took place on February 8. At the insistence of his widow, Besma Khalfaoui, women were encouraged to take part in the funeral procession.

Nessma TV estimated 1 million were on the streets.

As Belaid's body reached the Jellaz cemetery in central Tunis, Nessma TV displayed footage of looters breaking into cars. The police responded with teargas, which entered the cemetery.

"Rest in peace, Chokri, we will continue on your path," fellow PF leader and long-term labour activist Hamma Hammami said in a speech at the funeral.

The general strike was widely respected. Most flights out of Tunis's airport were cancelled, all schools were shut down, and almost all shops were closed.

Ennahda and the other forces of "stability" have jostled ensure the outrage at Belaid's death isn't chanelled into expanding the struggle for justice, dignity and work.

Ennahda Prime Minister Hamdi Jebali has announced he will dissolve the government and form a non-partisan government of "technocrats" ― despite the wishes of his own party leadership.

Whether such a government will be able to hold the Leagues to account, or deliver on the demands of the January 14 revolution, remains to be seen.

Football and racism

An interesting anecdote on how the world game has been involved in breaking down racism from the introduction to Johnny Warren's book "Sheilas, wogs & poofters":

The wog clubs didn't inflict the discrimination which was their struggle. For them football was always the currency. It didn't matter to them what someone looked like. It only mattered that they could play football. The late Charlie Perkins told the story that the Greek and Croatian clubs in Adelaide, and later the Pan Hellenic club in Sydney, were the first Australians to recognise him as a person to be treated equally. Charlie's football career commenced before the 1967 referendum moved to include Aborigines as part of the 'official' population of Australia. The axiom of 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' rand true and as such, both Charlie Perkins and non-English speaking migrants shared a bond through the common enemy of racism. Charlie became hugely popular in the migrant football communities primarily because he was a good footballer. To be finally accepted as an equal was a power social panacea for Dr Perkins.

It's a phenomenal book (the title speaks to mainstream Australian attitudes towards "soccer" at the time of Warren's coming of age in the 1950s) and well worth a read for anyone interested in the evolution of the round ball game in Australia, as well as an examination of migration & racism.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

HAIM: Please don't perform in Israel!

I'm probably what is called an active promoter in marketing speak. Anyone who has spent much time with me had probably heard about my love for Nando's chicken, ASICS footwear, Sydney FC, or various video games. Perhaps this is contradictory for a radical like me, but life is contradiction...

This is also the case when it comes to bands and musicians. I spend almost as much time on social media sharing videos or snatches of lyrics as I do my politics.

When I first heard HAIM songs playing on the radio, I was hooked straight away on their soaring, rhythmitic vocals and funk-folk-pop fused guitars which got more entrancing with each listen. I started sharing away with Falling.

Then, trawling through Wikipedia I discovered the band - three sisters, Danielle, Este and Alana Haim - have an Israeli father. A thought occured. And a quick google came up with the headline "We want to perform in Israel."

It would be completely inconsistent for me to not boycott a band's music once they've gone to perform in Israel, given my campaigning for BDS.

This was hard for me to do with Cut Copy, when I liked a couple of their singles after they got airtime on triple J; they refused to follow the lead of artists who respected the call like Carlos Santana, Massive Attack and Gil-Scott Heron and performed their concert in Israel on June 23, 2011.

Until I found this out I was going to go on a massive fan-boy bender of love for Haim, in a way that I haven't since first discovering the Jezabels when their first EP was just out in 2009.

Now, if I let myself do that I will only be setting myself up to have to boycott a favourite band whenever their wish to perform in Israel comes true.

The call for international artists to boycott Israel is part of a specific global campaign, called by Palestinians and following the example of South Africa. It's not just a question of the personal politics of the artists, but the concrete actions and their political ramifications.

The politics of BDS are certainly up for debate and there's no one Palestinian or international perspective on going about it, but for me, I don't want to pick and choose which parts I think are effective. Palestinian civil society has, for the first time since the 1980s, come together in a united way to try and rebuild their national movement behind the demands of BDS: tearing down the apartheid Wall in the West Bank; allowing the right of return for the refugees of 1948, 1967 and after; full legal equality for Palestinian (and all other) citizens of Israel.

And until the state of Israel implements those demands, all of which have been repeatedly called for by international legal bodies and the UN, then it deserves to be boycotted.

Alice Walker this week released an open letter calling on Alicia Keys to cancel her performance:

It would grieve me to know you are putting yourself in danger (soul danger) by performing in an apartheid country that is being boycotted by many global conscious artists. You were not born when we, your elders who love you, boycotted institutions in the US South to end an American apartheid less lethal than Israel’s against the Palestinian people. Google Montgomery Bus Boycott, if you don’t know about this civil rights history already. We changed our country fundamentally and the various boycotts of Israeli institutions and products will do the same there....

Under a campaign named ‘Brand Israel’, Israeli officials have stated specifically their intent to downplay the Palestinian conflict by using culture and arts to showcase Israel as a modern, welcoming place...

Walker puts the case far more convincingly than I could. International artists performing in Israel is one part of a strategy of "re-legitimisation" for Israel, after the damage done by widespread media coverage of recent atrocities like the attacks on Lebanon and Gaza in 2006 and 2009/10, the assault on the Mavi Marmara, the arbitrary detention of Palestinian footballers...

A counter argument was put to me through a friend on Facebook when I discovered HAIM's position:

But maybe consistency is impossible when not everything or everyone is so black and white, good and bad, right and wrong. Maybe you are allowed to like someone's art, even if you don't agree with 100% of their politics. Especially if their art isn't about their politics

Is it right to boycott a band for their opinions alone? They haven't yet booked a date, merely answered questions put to them by the Israeli press. This hardly falls under the guidelines of PACBI's call for boycott of artists, which is mostly focused on either cultural projects with connections with Israeli institutions, or calling on international artists who have booked dates in Israel to respect the boycott and cancel those events.

To me, the fact that the Israeli press is interested in talking to the sisters reflects the political dimension of their comments; at a time when public figures like Dustin Hoffman, Arundhati Roy and Steven Hawking are boycotting Israel, their comments are held up as a counter to BDS.

So when young international artists, Jewish or otherwise, state in the media they dream of performing in Israel and don't mention the context of the BDS campaign calling on artists not to, they are engaging in politics and sending a signal that the situation in Israel in Palestine is "normal" - and they should expect a political response.

But HAIM has the right to their opinions. Many people, probably including artists, writers and actors I like, have politics I disagree with. That doesn't stop me listening to their music, so it won't stop me with HAIM.

"Baby Haim" Alana did an interview with online magazine of young Jewish Americans "Jewcy", in which she spoke about visiting Israel:
We have to go to Israel for the occasional family wedding. There are some crazy Israeli weddings! I love Israel; I think it’s such a beautiful place. A lot of people think ‘Oh you go to Israel because you’re Jewish.’ I encourage my friends who aren’t Jewish to go to Israel because it’s such a beautiful place, and it’s such an important place. There’s so much history there, and it doesn’t matter what religion you are. I’ve always felt like a deep connection to the country. Especially living in LA, we don’t really have any history. Our history starts with Hollywood.

As individuals, the sisters have their own stories and histories, which I don't think it's my place to comment on. I too felt the weight of history when I visited Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nablus, Jaffa; the history of these places echoes throughout western cultures. I would also encourage everyone to visit Israel & the Occupied Territories and see life there for themselves, as I did, and form their own opinions.

But for HAIM to perform in Israel sends an altogether different message; it's to take a side in that history, to give support to the settlers burning Palestinian crops, to sick children being refused access to a pool because they are Bedouin, to the policies of the current Israeli government.

So I'm not boycotting HAIM or calling on others to do so, since they haven't actually done anything for them to be boycotted yet. But my respect for BDS means I will have to boycott their music if they ever do fulfil that dream 

As someone who would love to be an active promoter, I'm calling on HAIM to take another look at what's really happening in Israel and Palestine and make a statement that they will respect the boycott call. Hopefully it won't be long before Apartheid is ended in Israel and all citizens of the region, regardless of race or religion, will be given their rights.

You are performing today, alongside some of my other favourite artists, at the "Sound of Change" concert to promote women's empowerment. That sends a fantastic signal to the world, that public profile can be used to promote change. To refuse to perform in Israel - or better still, to perform in Gaza, as Alice Walker called on Alicia Keys to do - will send a signal that people of all races, religions and backgrounds want justice in Palestine.