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  • 18 Cecil St, Gordon, NSW, 2072
  • 1 Livingstone Ave, Pymble, NSW, 2073

I don't boo at the football

I was at the MCG last night. It was the opening round of the season and a great athletic contest between relatively evenly matched teams.

It is six months since football finished (though summer does fill the gap a little). The thing that I had forgotten about the fans around me is their strategy to influence the game’s outcome. They implore the umpires to give their team a break and yell abuse at them when they offer a “free” to the other team. They hope to swing the game, not by encouraging their players to work better as a team than the opposition, but to influence the umpires.

When the opposition players execute a brilliant play, they “boo”. At one point, the whole stadium was booing to put a player off a kick. A tribalism swirls around the stadium. It is OK to be abusive to umpires and opposition players. Combined with alcohol, it is a potent mix that frankly is quite unattractive.

American Gods is a TV series based on the books by Neil Gaiman. It starts with a premise that gods live among us. Gods gain their power from our prayers. The more worshippers and the more extreme their worship, the more powerful the gods become. The series pits the old gods led by Odin with the new gods of Globalism, Media and Tech Boy. Gods die when nobody prays for them. New Gods are born when people start praying.

Bringing these ideas together. Football crowds pray to their gods (proxy the umpires) to give their team a break. They know that the athletic competition is close, so the surest way to a win is to influence the gods. They ignore the humanity of the umpires (a bunch of athletes themselves, doing a fantastic job), instead imbuing them with power to change the outcome. Sometimes it works and so the crowd is encouraged. They think they have influence over the gods, but they are really just yelling abuse at other people.

Let us take this religious idea into our community. Imagine that Australian politicians are gods powered by our prayers. When we pray as a tribe, one over the other; our politicians feel free to isolate and abuse minorities, ridicule their opposition and even imply violence. They conflate ideas such as superannuation tax measures with refugee payments. They publicly offer no compassion, but behind doors, they look after their own tribe. Their tribe prays (maybe pays) and they give them satisfaction.

Politicians play to their audience and feel the power of their constituents prayers as they whip them up. This validates a world view that people that vote for them do not need to change in any way, they just need to influence the government to give their tribe better outcomes. Very like the AFL crowds.

Our gods are fed by our worship and our worship is tribal, is it any wonder that our gods are tribal? Maybe we should re-imagine the church as a tribe free zone, where gods are not strengthened by our prayers; we actively work to withdraw power from the gods around us. We imagine an anti-tribal, fundamentally inclusive community of non-believers.

And I still find booing at the football offensive.

Lloyd Robinson 23 March 2019