The Negus Interview


Friends of the ABC will know of a sports report / interview program called 'Sports Factor', hosted by Amanda Smith (AS). On this particular program, 20/7/96, Smith, as part of a story on the ethnic issue between Soccer Australia and member clubs of the A-League, interviewed Soccer Australia commissioner George Negus (GN). Here, reproduced verbatim is the ensuing conversation.

The Interview...

AS: ...Marconi are still hanging onto their logo with Italian colour, Melbourne Knights resolved to keep their red and white checks, while Adelaide City are putting the decision to a members meeting next month.
George Negus, as well as being a TV journalist, is a board member of Soccer Australia. Why this demand to de-ethnicise the game?

GN: When you use the word de-ethnicise and I guess you know there's no way in the world you'd ever stop some people from using that term, I would rather say that we are not de-ethnicising the game, we are Australianising the game. I mean, those symbols to the broad Australian soccer public don't mean a great deal. They may mean a great deal to those pockets, albeit, important pockets in the Australian soccer community from particular ethnic backgrounds, but it doesn't mean anything, for instance, I'm the President of a country junior club, on the Northern New South Wales coast. They wouldn't have a clue that there was even an ethnic factor in Australian soccer. There are no, you know, to all intents and purposes, there are no ethnic names in our teams, they are all Anglo Saxon names, or they are names of kids who are second or third generation ethnics. Now, that means that the whole situation, all to the point where those symbols, whilst they might be meaningful to the hard-core supporters of that club, they mean nothing to people outside the club. Now if we are going to broaden the appeal of soccer in general, then it has to have a broader appeal. Why bother to merchandise and licence or promote the game via club strips and club paraphernalia, to a public that doesn't even understand what those symbols mean?

AS: Well, what if Marconi Fairfield called your bluff, are you really prepared to lose one of the strongest clubs from the league, in this sense?

GN: That's up to Marconi I guess, but it's a board matter and it would be wrong for me to express anything other than a personal opinion, but I don't think that will happen. I mean, in most of these situations, you know, there's a lot a wind and fury and then people come to their senses. I mean, when we removed three clubs from the league last year, so far as a chunk of the Australian soccer community was concerned, it was the end of the world, now nobody even talks about it.
I mean, so, these are radical changes that are being made, they are revolutionary changes and by their very nature and definition those sort of changes are going to be painful for some people for some period of time. But it's amazing how quickly those wounds heal and how rapidly people put those things behind them and I think we found ourselves in conflict for three months last year over that three clubs issue and now I can't remember the last time it was raised with me as a board member, as a matter of any concern to anyone, because they saw eventually, everybody, even the opponents, eventually saw that it was to the benefit of the game.

AS: Well, at the time of the Soccer Summit, last year, George, you said that the way to really boost soccer in Australia, would be to host the World Cup. Will Australia be bidding for the 2006 or 2010 World Cup?

GN: I think it would be wishful thinking to suggest we've got an ice cube hope in hell before 2010 and wouldn't be surprised if it was 2014, but having said that, I've always regarded as important that it be part of our plans because you just can't walk up to FIFA tomorrow and say that we would like the World Cup next time around thank you very much. It's not the way it works. But I think, it's, I always saw that as much a symbolic goal, but in fact a practical one for the Australian soccer community to say the ultimate one, surely as a game in this country, would be to host the World Cup and if people are thinking along those lines they've got something to aim for in the long term and so have all the kids coming through our ranks that you know, not only will they play for Australia with one of our five national teams, but see the World Cup played in their own country. It's a vision thing as distinct from anything that's immediately practical.

AS:..Mmm, but getting the World Cup would in some way be the answer to Australian soccer's prayers?

GN: I think what I said at the time, if we made the World Cup our goal, we would have to get everything else in place and if we say to ourselves, what are we trying to achieve here, are we simply trying to improve the game within the country at the club level etc, at the national level, is that what the purpose of the exercise is? Which is a pretty admirable exercise anyway, but if our real goal is to become the host of the World Cup, we have to, by definition, get everything else right, in terms of administration and our on and off the field behaviour. So, yeah, it's a way of focussing people's attention on what the hell all this whole funny business of sports administration, sport is a very strange thing. I don't know why we get so excited about it, but we do, it wouldn't be a bad idea if we knew why we get so excited about it.

AS:...and that is the delicious conundrum of sport, so serious and yet so trivial...

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