The International Journal of Sport and Society offers an annual award for newly published research or thinking that has been recognized to be outstanding by members of the Sport & Society Research Network.
Modern Australia hosts a unique football landscape. Its four professional codes (Australian Rules, Rugby Union, Rugby League, Soccer) are supported by a population of just twenty-five million people. As distinct from most other countries and despite its long history in Australia, its British colonial past, and being an anglophile nation, soccer did not become the predominant, hegemonic football sport. In fact, soccer has historically been viewed as un-Australian and existed outside the mainstream and legitimized sports culture. Academic literature insists that Australian soccer’s enduring plight has been one of problematic foreignness and ethnicity. Ethnicity becomes a major consideration in Australian soccer as a result of the mass immigration of Europeans post-1950. However, prior to this and since colonization in 1788, Australia was a largely homogenous (British) culture. Based on analysis of primary source material (via digitized newspaper archives) and secondary source sports and social history writing, this article investigates the roles of class and colonialism in the key period between 1850 and 1914, during which time the football games were organizing themselves and when soccer was originally marginalized. In challenging the incumbent ethnicity orthodoxy, this article highlights those elements of British colonial (sporting) culture that were deemed worthy of replication and those to be repudiated in the Australian colony, and how soccer fitted into this matrix.
The article “Repudiate or Replicate – The Delegimization of Soccer in Australia; 1880-1914” was produced as part of my PhD thesis, undertaken at the University of Sydney, Australia. I undertook the PhD journey to formalise my understanding of the reasons for soccer’s marginalisation and to challenge the hitherto accepted paradigms that soccer’s lowly Australian status was as a function of its ethnicity. Australia, a card-carrying colony of the British Empire had successfully ostracised Britain’s most popular game to the margins. Given Australia’s homogenous societal makeup, it always seemed strange that ethnicity was used as a reason for this. This paper then, as reflected by its title, sought to understand what parts of British culture needed to be replicated on the Australian landscape and which were to be repudiated. In contending that soccer was actively repudiated by the colonials, this paper articulated an alternative explanation to the soccer-ethnicity nexus in understanding Australian sport. And on a personal level it provided a key foundation for my PhD research which has asserted that Australian sport, and soccer as a subset thereof, remains deeply immersed in the impacts of colonialism. This paper was a scene-setter for my PhD, which sought to understand the actual legitimization of Australian soccer, a process which took place with the sport’s re-constitution in the early years of the 21st Century. As a result of this, soccer’s performance and societal standing changed acutely to the point where it is now accepted in the matrix of acceptable Australian sports. In order to chronicle the sport’s legitimization post 2003, it was therefore necessary to understand how and why the sport was not legitimate previously. And as part of the process of establishing a British colony in the South Pacific Ocean, the colonials decisively replicated and/or repudiated various cultural affectations, of which sport was certainly one category and from which soccer in particular was a major casualty.
— Andy Harper
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