21/04/2024

Aliir Aliir was racially vilified after the Showdown. Photo: PAFC - Twitter

Showdown L reminded all how great the Port Adelaide - Adelaide rivalry can be on the football field. Unfortunately, it also delivered another huge prompting in life.

Let’s have a time check. Monday, August 9, 2021.

That is 2021 AD.

Man has stepped on the moon. Everest has been conquered. Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone has become a reality and delivered more.

But we cannot play a Showdown without racism being a major focal point – and a haunting reminder of how far we still have to go on this planet before we imagine finding a holiday shack overlooking Neil Armstrong’s footsteps in the Sea of Tranquility on the moon.

“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” said Armstrong on July 20, 1969 … and 52 years later the greatest step men and women still need to take is on Earth in the fight against racism.

Four years have passed since then Port Adelaide Football Club captain Travis Boak took his men and his club’s staff to the northern hill at Adelaide Oval to join their counterparts at Adelaide to stand united against racism.

The Showdown had taken on another nasty look by the racial taunting and slurring of Port Adelaide ruckman Patrick Ryder and Adelaide specialist forward Eddie Betts.

The united stand – across the greatest divide in local football – was met with this challenging question, signed by Port Adelaide premiership hero Shaun Burgoyne from the AFL indigenous advisory board: “How long must we put up with this?”

It is sad to note there is probably more chance of COVID falling into the history books – as the Spainish flu epidemic did a century ago – than racism.

Showdown L gave a sharp focus on racism with the standing down and banning of former Adelaide captain Taylor Walker, who drew a line in the sand in April 2017 when he reached out to Boak to have both South Australian-based AFL clubs stand united against racial shame.

And still – for all that should have been learned in the lead-up to the derby – the Port Adelaide Football Club finishes an epic derby needing to condemn the racial slurring of Showdown Medallist and grand defender Aliir Aliir.

“Racism has to stop,” Port Adelaide declared on Sunday.

“Racism is divisive and hurtful and has no place in our game or society more broadly. It has to stop.”

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Aliir Aliir was born in a refugee camp in Kenya to South Sudanese parents.

His family moved to Australia, a land of great opportunity, when he was eight.

He found Australian football, a game that does not discriminate while it finds champions who are small, tall, fast, slow, black, white, brown or whatever skin colour human genetics can offer, when he was 14.

Aliir Aliir is a living story of hope from adversity. He is the prime example of how everyone can achieve in life and sport when free of persecution, prejudice and vilification – more so in a country that surely has learned the richness of embracing the riches of many cultures.

Port Adelaide SANFL premiership hero Andrew McLeod said it so well: “No one is born as a racist.”

A decade ago McLeod stood before the United Nations in Geneva where the AFL wanted to lead the world in the fight against racism.

So much had been achieved on the field … and this year, with the fall of Collingwood president Eddie McGuire and Taylor Walker, is the reminder that so much more still needs done.

Speaking to McLeod earlier this year he reflected on his UN speech and the decade since saying: “I’m still a firm believer that education is the best policy when it comes to dealing with these issues.

“If you were to simply base your assessment on the definition of education in the dictionary, then it would seem there is still some way to go.

“How can it be done better? I reflect on my old coach Neil Craig’s words that ring true in the way he used to challenge his players when he would say.  ‘Ask yourself: If not me, who?’

“If you don’t take responsibility yourself to be the change, who do you expect to be the change.”

It is 2021 AD.

Those who take issue with Australian football showing a social conscience – preferring it to be a game that distracts everyone from life’s real moments – need to reflect on the pain of racism. It needs to stop. And Australian football can play a significant part in this change. But first it needs to have racism stop at its own doorstep.

It is time to do better.

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