IT’S a game of footy, not war.
Sporting codes must never be allowed to hijack a day of pride, sorrow and reflection.
And football codes are walking a fine line with Anzac Day.
More than ever, they must be careful about hijacking an occasion when the game should come second — our war veterans always should come first.
Kevin Sheedy understands this better than anyone.
“Our veterans and the work of our defence forces must never fall back into the shadows on Anzac Day,” insisted Sheedy, who did two years of national service in the late 1960s and conceived the first Anzac Day game, in 1995, involving his club, Essendon, and old rival Collingwood.
Sport has — and hasn’t — been played on our truly national day during the past 100 years.
The day has been given new context since that afternoon 20 years ago when 94,000 fans packed the MCG to see the Pies and Bombers produce a dramatic draw.
In 2002, rugby league started its tradition with the first of its annual matches involving the Roosters and Dragons.
Today, the NRL and AFL will both host five matches, with the first for each code starting before noon while many Anzac Day marches across the country are still in progress.
Other sports are climbing aboard, wanting to honour our nation while carving out “audience” on a day that is supposed to be sacred.
Big business is rightfully copping it in the neck for cashing in on the Anzac legend.
Sport should heed the warning.
This year, the convergence of Anzac Day on a Saturday and the 100th anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli has prompted the NRL to host more matches than usual.
The intention of all codes no doubt are well placed, but is a 10-hour footy feast labouring the point?
The AFL usually plays five matches on a Saturday, although a match in New Zealand starting before noon while the marches are still going in Australia has attracted criticism from the Victorian branch of the RSL.
The NRL says its five-match schedule hasn’t attracted criticism from the RSL.
Ever the optimist, Sheedy has no issue with the footy marathons.
“This year being a Saturday is an opportunity for more than a couple of clubs,” Sheedy said.
“It’s how we explain the historical story.
“No club should own Anzac Day — it belongs to the RSL and the defence forces.
“All we are doing is using the stage to educate our nation on what happened during war — we are a vehicle to tell that story.”
Some would argue the football codes should provide more than that, with sell-out crowds ensuring healthy profits at most venues.
The Roosters-Dragons match is all-but sold out, with more than 40,000 expected to attend.
The NRL said it had collection points at all matches for donations and provided free entry for veterans.
It was also considering the idea of giving a dollar from each person through the gates to the RSL.
The AFL said it donated about $300,000 to the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, with thousands more collected in tin rattles outside stadiums.
Complaints about not being afforded a public holiday on Monday because Anzac Day this year falls on a Saturday entirely misses the point about what should be a sombre day of remembrance.
Footy can never allow itself to also miss the point.
My most vivid memory of April 25 came about a decade ago.
Standing on George Street with my father, we watched the parade of war veterans, some of them with tears running down their cheeks, with pride and sorrow and everything in between.
Afterwards, a couple of beers were shared with random servicemen and women at a packed pub.
Then a walk through the streets of Surry Hills with fans in Roosters and Dragons jumpers, and those in more important uniform coming from all aspects of the defence forces.
Then we listened to the Last Post, the bugle the only sound in a silent stadium.
Then we watched a game of footy.
I can’t remember who won. It didn’t really matter.
The footy came second, as it always should. Lest we forget.
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