When the CFMEU reportedly spent two million dollars for the right to have a multimedia rant about Work Place Relations during the halftime break at the Canberra game last weekend, Rugby League ushered in a new era beyond ?the battlers? versus the ?silver-tails? of politicisation of The People?s Game we accept.
The history of politics in world sport is healthy. The Olympics, World Cup soccer and Rugby Union with the apartheid issues in South Africa, comes to mind. One could conceivably argue that once again League has been upstaged but in the long run we could argue that for eighty minutes, we can truly escape the dreariness of the real word; free of politics and politicians. Not these days.
In early 1978 I answered an advertisement in the classifieds.
RUGBY LEAGUE COACH Wanted for International University. Must be able to motivate young people Excellent pay and conditions
In my then unemployable state, coupled with my overcompensating delusional visions of capability I responded. Within two weeks Egypt Air tickets arrived with an acceptance letter. I specifically stated that I had no real experience but I was a die hard Souths supporter and really hate the Roosters.
When I arrived in Tehran, I was welcomed by a smiling gentleman who we will call Ali. He gave me a rundown of my work conditions, notice of a pay increase and that at most, I have eight months to transform the selected candidates into a Rugby League team to represent Iran at the upcoming Inter-University competition to be held in Greece.
I started off showing copies of glorious games on VHS. We discussed tactics, positions, play styles and answered questions with Ali as interpreter. After two days of theory I put them though some basic drills and arranged with Ali to scout out more candidates from the Wrestling and Weightlifting teams. I needed some muscle and they gave me plenty to choose from.
I ask Ali to arrange for a friendly game in four months with one of the other teams we are likely to meet. ?We will play Iraq!? he jumped.
Resources were abundant and I designed a weekly plan with certain goals that needed to be reached. The team was eager to learn but I detected a certain undertow of mistrust that I couldn?t put my finger on. Weekly team meetings became agitated and my trust in Ali?s interpretations diminished as debates became frequent and heated with myself interpreting body language
After six weeks I couldn?t take it anymore and confronted Ali.
Basically, I am a western spawn of the devil infidel and I am secretly training them to lose against Iraq. Ali?s frankness was a bombshell. On my free days I had been meeting with one of the University Professors who approached me in a book shop I found. Leila was passionate about literature as I was about Souths but she was happy to find an Australian who was passionate about anything. We talked about mostly stuff I had no interest in... Politics.
I became scared. Very Scared.
Leila was straight forward. ?Put it this way, you are sponsored by the Shah at a time when our country is on the verge of a revolution from militant fundamentalist representatives of the Ayatollah. You are a ?point to prove? for the Shah. You win, the Shah wins too... some will say that the people win too. Do you really think there is no politics in your sport back home??
I got it but I didn?t. I mean, sure, there would be inter club rivalries with the administrators and each club would have their own internal power struggles but crap man. I just go and watch the game! There?s no way a Federal Election would be decided with the result of Australia playing Great Britain. Is there?
I rescheduled training.
With a week to go before the friendly with Iraq I gave the team a rest for a couple of days. Arguments between players that seemed to be splitting into factions became apparent. Ali told me not to worry as long as we beat Iraq and from now on to wear this under my jacket. He handed me a bullet proof vest.
Cheers Ali. Is this really necessary?
Over coffee Leila explained. ?What you are not aware of it seems is that your team is made up of two student factions. The left wing Democratic Socialists Students Assoc, versus the Islamic Students Association.?
Basically, I?m dead.