EDITORIAL: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Boycott AFL football on Good Friday!
, July 5, 2014
The decision of the commission of the Australian Football League — the AFL’s official governing body — to allow football matches on Good Friday reflects the increasing secularism of society, as well as an opportunity by the AFL Commission to make more money through both ground receipts and television rights.
The decision, apparently, was not unanimous.
To those who have pointed out that Good Friday is a day of special religious significance, recognised by society, the response is given that we live in a secular society and should not give undue recognition to days which celebrate Christian feast days.
However, Australia is emphatically not a secular society. It is a pluralist society.
According to the latest census, about 70 per cent of Australians describe themselves as Christians and a further 10 per cent believe in God. The secularists comprise — at most — 20 per cent of our society.
Even those who do not mark the day as the commemoration of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice for our salvation, nevertheless recognise it as a day on which Australians hold out their hands to those less fortunate than ourselves.
If those who put the secular argument really believed it, they would not only end Good Friday, Easter Monday and Christmas Day as public holidays; they would insist that these are normal working days, as they were in officially atheist states such as the USSR and China.
The push for Good Friday football is merely an attempt to commercialise one of the few unfilled days on the football calendar, regardless of the significance of the day.
In defending its change of policy, AFL officials pointed out that other football codes, including the Australian Rugby League and soccer’s Football Federation had scheduled matches for Good Friday.
The fact that other football codes view Good Friday as just another holiday and should be open to commercial exploitation is no reason why the AFL should follow. The first Good Friday rugby league game took place over 20 years ago, and the AFL has stood its ground since then.
The AFL said that it had “consulted” church leaders. Those who have spoken out about the issue, both Catholic and Anglican, have made it clear that they opposed the decision; so the AFL ignored them.
As the Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, pointed out: “Good Friday is a holy day for Christians. A public holiday is a privileged and powerful mark of respect which honours all that the death of Jesus Christ signifies: sacrifice, faithfulness and the giving of self in love.
“But Good Friday is also an important community day for the whole population. There are so few days we share as a community during which families and friends can spend time together, without the pressure to work or to go to the shops. It is a day with a character of its own, out of the ordinary weekly routine. There is great value in preserving that difference.”
The Anglican assistant bishop of Melbourne was particularly scathing. Bishop Philip Huggins remarked: “No doubt if the marketers believed they could sell it, there would be AFL at 3:00am on Christmas Day in Madagascar” (The Age, June 22, 2014).
A further argument has been to say that football takes place on other public holidays, such as Anzac Day and the Queen’s Birthday. To equate Good Friday with these days shows a lack of understanding of the issues.
What is to be done?
Those who feel strongly about this issue need to make their views known to the Australian Football League. This can be done by letter or email. The AFL’s postal address is GPO Box 1449, Melbourne, Victoria 3001. The email address of the AFL’s new CEO, Gillon McLachlan, is <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
The AFL cannot claim that there are not enough other times for football over Easter. Already matches are played on four other days over the Easter holiday period.
Letters or email messages by themselves are unlikely to change the AFL’s mind. At the end of the day, the AFL has made a commercial decision, and it will persist with Good Friday football if it is a commercial success.
The best way to ensure this does not happen is to refuse to attend, and to call on our fellow Australians to boycott the event.
There must be hundreds of thousands of ordinary Australians who believe that it is wrong for the AFL to hold a football match on what is arguably one of the holiest days of the year, and are prepared to stand up and say so.
This is a campaign which could unite Christians of all denominations, as well as people of goodwill who simply believe that there are more important questions than whether the AFL and some of its struggling clubs should be able to make a windfall profit on that day.
It would send a powerful message that Christians, and Christian beliefs, cannot be overridden by commercial interests.
If enough people are willing to say “No” to Good Friday football, the AFL may reconsider its plan. The ball is at our feet.
Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.