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Bishop speaks out after first Good Friday AFL match announced

Posted on: October 26, 2016 2:12 PM
Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium is set to stage a match between the Roos and the Dogs on Good Friday in 2017; but the assistant Bishop of Melbourne, Philip Huggins, is urging the AFL to think again.
Photo Credit: Invincible / Wikimedia

[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] An Australian bishop has spoken out after it was announced that the Australian Football League (AFL) will next year stage its first match to be played on Good Friday. The Etihad Stadium in the docklands area of Melbourne is the pre-eminent football stadium in Australia, and the home of the AFL. The full fixtures for the 2017 season will be published tomorrow (Thursday) but the AFL have already confirmed that North Melbourne will take on the Western Bulldogs at the stadium on 14 April.

The AFL approved playing matches on Good Friday in 2014; but this is the first match to be scheduled for the holy day. The match will have a 4.20pm start to avoid clashes with any Good Friday services taking place that afternoon.

“We accept that some football fans remain opposed to scheduling a match on Good Friday”, the AFL’s general manager of clubs and operations, Travis Auld, said. “The decision to now schedule a match was made on the basis that our society has changed in recent decades and the majority of football fans, who are our ultimate decision-makers, share the view of our clubs who have expressed their wish to play on this day

But Bishop Philip Huggins, from the Diocese of Melbourne, has criticised the move, saying it was “another win for market, not for people.”

“We have always been ‘kicking against the wind’ but the AFL has been one entity that has exercised restraint – not least because many people of faith who also enjoy football have conveyed the depth of their feeling about Good Friday,” Bishop Huggins said. “But now, in 2017AD, this is to change.

“The trouble with this approach to life is that the heart dies a little each time the relentless and commodifying logic of the market overwhelms all other considerations. Even the most sacred days, for which our forebears had the wisdom to make holy days – holidays – are then invaded.

“We are then left with a society full of products but short of meaning. That is what is happening and no amount of marketing spin fills the void.”

North Melbourne FC is known by its nickname the Kangaroos, or just Roos, for short. Their managing director, Carl Dilena, told the club’s website that they were “absolutely thrilled by the announcement.”

“It’s a tribute to this club’s track record of innovation and a credit to all the great North people . . . who initially proposed this game in the late 80s and early 90s,” he said.

The AFL, the two clubs and official broadcaster Channel 7 will use the match to support an appeal by the Royal Children’s Hospital. “There are a lot of great things we can do together to achieve some great outcomes and we will sit down in due course to discuss those with all the key stakeholders,” Dilena said.

Explaining the importance of Good Friday, Bishop Huggins said that it was called Good because “it spoke to people about the profound love of God, so visible in Jesus.”

He continued: “The meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection is so profound that our forebears knew they needed separate days – holy days – to take this in and live by the truth it revealed. They knew, for their own sakes, that they must keep these days free of distraction.

“Hence, we in the Anglican Church have taken a lead in reminding our community of this wisdom amidst the endless marketing of more products to distract and trivialise the gift of life, even on holy days.

“The fact that faithful fans will be hurt and further alienated is swept aside as a consideration. Behind the rationales lies mere greed – greed and a refusal to think there is any wisdom in traditions that have fed the souls of millions for countless centuries, across all kinds of cultures.”

Bishop Huggins – himself a “passionate supporter” of Victoria side Geelong – said that the AFL’s restraint until now in not scheduling matches on Good Friday when other codes had done so was appreciated and he urged the League to reconsider its decision to change this practice, even at this stage.

The AFL is the senior league in Australian Rules Football – a competition played with oval balls on oval pitches. Australian Rules Football is not the same as association football, or soccer.