Comment: Bigotry rears its ugly head again

Comment: Bigotry rears its ugly head again

Hopefully Australia will get the chance to avenge its painful 1-0 defeat against Japan in the final of the last Asian Cup in Qatar in 2011.

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The 16-team competition is being hailed as the biggest sporting event to be held in Australia since the 2000 Olympic Games.

A successful tournament from the home team would go a long way towards making it a raging success.

It is also very important for Australia to be able to put on a show for our Asian guests and let them know that it very much sees itself as part of the continent’s massive football family.

Easier said than done.

There should be no problem with the organisation of the tournament: Australia has a proven record for holding first-class events.

Events of the past week however have made it very clear that we still have a big job on our hands to convince our Asian friends that we have shed the perceived image of a bunch of rampant rednecks who look down on Asia with a superiority complex that is both unjustified and embarrassing.

Melbourne’s Herald Sun, Australia’s biggest selling daily newspaper, published a cringe-worthy cartoon the day after Abu Dhabi-backed Manchester City bought a majority share in A-League club Melbourne Heart.

The sensational takeover was a positive story whichever way you look at it.

Yet the notorious daily that is so sensitive to unsocial behaviour from football fans thought nothing of the damage xenophobia can cause to the tepid relations between Australia and some of our Asian neighbours at diplomatic level.

In a case of bad taste at best and blatant racism at worst, it published a cartoon depicting an Arab sheikh and a set of ‘cheer girls’ dressed in black burqas ushering the Heart team onto the field.

A caption read “That should sheikh up the A-League”.

What on earth was the Herald Sun thinking?

Did it think at all about the ramifications of publishing such a tasteless cartoon in the present political climate?

Did it realise that as host country of the 2015 Asian Cup it is Australia’s obligation to welcome the participants not poke fun at their culture?

Did it really believe that its hundreds of thousands of readers would approve of such ignorance and opportunism or, more seriously, find it funny?

Did it honestly expect to get away with its flagrant disregard for basic human courtesy.

Australia arguably embraces multiculturalism like no other country and the Herald Sun’s cartoon went against everything that we stand for.

I refuse to believe that there were more sinister motives at play here like purposely damaging the event’s credibility behind the publication of the controversial cartoon.

However if the newspaper’s intention was merely to have some fun, surely it must have known that what is considered ‘just a bit of fun’ by us might not be seen as ‘fun’ by people from a different background, whether they live in Australia, Indonesia or Iran.

If, as I suspect, the paper smugly regards the negative reaction to the cartoon as vindication for publishing it in the first place it should hang its head in shame.

The Herald Sun, to be fair, is not the first publication or medium to show a level of ignorance about such delicate matters and it won’t be the last.

The media, after all, by and large reflects the attitude and mentality of the people it is supposed to serve.

Which is why the football family as one must distance itself in no uncertain terms from such xenophobia.

Many would argue that free speech is one of the cornerstones of what it means to be Australian and it is certainly not the intention of this columnist to dispute the right of any media organisation to publish or transmit any material it likes as long as it is legal.

Yet since we live in a free country we also reserve the right to deplore such examples of crassness in no uncertain terms.

In a football country that is hell-bent on leaving a strong and lasting impression on billions of Asians, it is important that every effort be made to look after the interests of the game.

The Asian Cup will provide Australia with a unique opportunity to forge stronger cultural and economic links with Asia and give football yet another fillip.

Which is why the game should fight for its rights.

And if it can’t stop its ‘enemies’ from causing their own brand of collateral damage, the least it should do is stand up for itself and let the whole country know that it is being treated unfairly.

It is well worth reminding ourselves that average Australians are smart enough to know what’s right and what’s wrong.

The anti-football mafia’s game will be up one day.

You see, you can fool some people some of the time but you can’t fool all the people all the time.

Those in the media who are hell-bent on painting football in a bad light should take note.