On Sunday evening, a small Western Australian soccer club named Gwelup Croatia were defeated 4-3 by Perth SC. Before the match began, they were warned that if they won and qualified for the final 32 of the FFA Cup, their logo and name ‘Croatia’ may need to be changed.
that Gwelup Croatia were warned by Football West that FFA might consider their name and logo too ethnic. Which was a reasonable assumption from Football West, considering another Western Australian club, Stirling Lions, were forced by FFA to remove the Star of Vergina from their jersey last season.
FFA denied that Gwelup Croatia would have had to change their name or their logo, although continued to leave the word 'Croatia' off their match report (later it was amended to include the word Croatia). They also admitted that the National Club Identity Policy could be applied retrospectively "through certain conduct". And so a fundamental issue remains unclear – how ethnic does a club need to be to earn the attention of FFA and their National Club Identity Policy?
The National Club Identity Policy, , advises that soccer clubs must not have names that contain "ethnic, national, political, racial or religious connotations either in isolation or combination."
But this is not new. The policy is the latest iteration of a phenomenon that has existed since the Scottish migrants first set up their own clubs, and later the Europeans in the postwar period. This recurring theme has been made complicated by the fact that the de-ethnicisation of clubs has often been put forward by those who are themselves of an ethnic background.
For example, in 1964 the NSW Federation management committee voted against a motion from (nee Sándor Pongrácz) of the Budapest club in Sydney that all clubs must include a district name as well as a ‘national’ name. So Budapest went it alone, becoming St. George-Budapest and eventually St. George, setting a trend eventually followed across the country. Some clubs were happier than others to make the change. Some people changed their minds on the issue over time.
In 1965, while he was a club official of Pan Hellenic (now Sydney Olympic), Sir Arthur George – who changed his own name from Athanasios Theodore Tzortzatos – was against changing club names. “Those people harping on about the effects of nationalistic names suffer from a massive dose of inferiority complex,” he said. “Why should clubs change their names? One out of four people under 21 now in Australia was born elsewhere.”
Yet by 1977, he had assumed the presidency of the Australian Soccer Federation, and had banned ethnic names from the national competition. In 1978, he said, “soccer is not being regarded as an Australian sport, due to so many of the names being used at present.”
These familiar arguments for an against ethnic names continued through the 1980s and 1990s, inflamed primarily by the presence of Sydney Croatia and Melbourne Croatia. In 1996, when Josip Simunic first decided to pledge his allegiance to Croatia, the country of his parents, rather than Australia, the names and logos were seen as proof of ethnic clubs as fifth column. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald asked if Simunic “had not played for a club with Croatian emblems on its jersey and which continues to identify with Croatia, would he have opted for Croatia over Australia?”
It was nonsense, of course. More Australians of Croatian heritage have played for the Socceroos than for Croatia, and many of them grew up supporting the various ‘Croatia’s’ around the country. is perhaps the best example of this. Yet the truth is nobody much likes the Croats in soccer, sometimes for reasons that are entirely justifiable, and so many fans, commentators and officials have played the man and abandoned the principle. But remove the Croats from this, or indeed remove soccer, and you’re left with an ideological position that can only be seen as discriminatory.
Nowhere else in Australian society would would this be acceptable practice. It’s a depressing irony – Australia’s first genuinely multicultural sport has internalised the logic of assimilation and unleashed its toxic influence on the few remaining clubs that wish to retain the most visible symbols of their identity.
Ultimately, we need to move away from the idea that this is an issue simply for football. Someone recently told me the NCIP is for the good of "the whole of the game in 2015". My response was that I do not care for the good of the whole of the game in 2015. I care for the good of people and communities in 2015, and hope to see that expressed through soccer.
As the father of multiculturalism, Al Grassby, said, this has “with far reaching effects, not just for those involved in soccer.” It’s worth re-reading the recommendations in the Galbally Report from 1978, seen as one of the founding documents of Australian multiculturalism. There are some two statements that go straight to the heart of the club names issue. The report reads:
Provided that ethnic identity is not stressed at the expense of society at large, but is interwoven into the fabric of our nationhood by the process of multicultural interaction, then the community as a whole will benefit substantially and its democratic nature will be reinforced.
Are club names such as Gwelup Croatia elevating ethnic identities “at the expense of society at large”? Perhaps. Many have made the case that ethnic names perpetuate the view that soccer is dominated by ethnic enclaves, and that ethnic names are a harbinger to violence and division at grounds. Others might take the view that "the process of multicultural interaction" is in the playing of soccer against other Australian clubs of various origins.
Indeed the authors of the Report rejected the argument that cultural diversity immediately creates division. “Rather,” they argued, “we believe that hostility and bitterness between groups are often the result of cultural repression.” Is FFA’s ban on national, political or religious names and logos “cultural repression”? Absolutely. The logical question arises – who here is creating the division?
It is true that the Croats will continue to create about the National Club Identity Policy, and most of the clubs of ethnic origin have simply moved on, happy to be known simply by their district or nicknames. This is their right and their prerogative. But just as Essendon Royals are unlikely to revert back to Unione Sportiva Triestina, no club should never be forced to change in order to justify their existence.
A spokesperson for Gwelup Croatia told me there was “no way” they would have changed their name if asked by FFA. Although FFA assure us it’s not the case, it feels as if a battle may have been narrowly avoided. Still, it remains fundamentally different for the membership of a soccer club to decide to change their name, logo or jersey in order to seek broad based approval than for that change to be forced upon them arbitrarily by a administrative body they did not elect to be governed by.
During the recent Asian Cup, soccer-mad Australians of Iranian, Korean, Iraqi and Palestinian heritage support their national teams, bringing with them all the colour and passion that makes soccer “the world game”. Many of these communities have quietly begun their own clubs and federations independently of FFA. There’s Chinese, Lebanese, Somalian and Iranian soccer associations, just to name a few, and many of the people involved in these are aware that FFA don’t want them to form new ethnic clubs. Is this the message that FFA wants to send to the wider community? And as soccer fans, are we complicit in endorsing this message?
At some point, lest we argue about this for another 50 years, we’re going to have to accept that in a multicultural society ‘Croatia’ is not foreign, nor is ‘Maccabi Hakoah’, nor is ‘’ for that matter. Once people arrive here and set down roots, their cultural inheritance becomes part of Australia. Even if we hate the Croats, we are all Gwelup Croatia.