Respect for the past can help mould young sportspeople

HISTORY and the important lessons it can teach us become lost and confined to dusty books on library shelves when we stop talking about it.

Interest wanes, the general population grows indifferent.

But the growing masses showing respect to our troops at dawn services yesterday, 100 years since World War I began, and increasing number of commemorative sporting games scheduled across the region suggest Anzac Day and the spirit it embodies – courage, mateship, endurance and sacrifice – is stronger than ever.

Sport is a fantastic platform for honouring history and highlighting social awareness on a whole range of issues. This includes AFL indigenous round’s Dreamtime at the ‘G and the pink stumps of Jane McGrath Day in cricket’s Sydney Test each summer.

Sport is a medium that reaches across cultures, language barriers, socio-economic hurdles and draws communities together.

There is a fine line between showing respect and teaching about the past to morphing a sporting contest into a blatant gimmick or pull for gate takings.

Tributes to the sacrifices of our servicemen and women will play out this weekend following five fixtures in the Ballarat region yesterday, plus North Ballarat Rebels – the region’s top under-18s – in action in Melbourne for the inaugural Anzac Day Cup in TAC Cup competition.

Perhaps surprisingly, it is a concept that has taken a while to catch on in Australia compared to a country like the United States and its rich military traditions that are honoured before each and every sporting game.

It is imperative for Australians to understand the solemnity and reverence that marks each match and pre-game ceremony, particularly those specifically played on Anzac Day.

North Ballarat Roosters coach Gerard FitzGerald has long brought his players to the dawn service in the heart of Ballarat. FitzGerald says the club importantly promotes developing players into well-rounded men on and off the field, as leaders in their community.

“It is important as a football coach, or coach in any sport, to develop players into people above and beyond the sport they are interested in,” FitzGerald said.

“It’s about how we educate the next batch of young people and the young want to learn – whether it’s about the White Ribbon campaign against violence to women or Anzac, they want to know about it. I can see it in their eyes. You know when they’re involved, asking questions, and we have a responsibility to those we’re leading to keep mentoring.”

The Roosters met at 5.40am for yesterday’s dawn service, and started training with a reflective session and discussion on what they felt it all meant.

This year’s focus was on the Anzac Ode, its wording and how players could relate to it.

FitzGerald says stories help. He recounted a tale of a young prisoner of war in Changi who spent his 18, 19 and 20th birthdays in captivity – the same age most of his players are free to party and have a few drinks.

Central Highlands Football League hosted its first Anzac Day fixtures, excepting times when it coincided with the usual Saturday scheduling.

Buninyong and Springbank, keen to make this an annual meet, banded senior players together for a dawn service. 

Clunes, which hosted Bungaree under lights, encouraged young players and their families to attend a commemoration.

This all stemmed from Collingwood and Essendon’s emotive clash on the MCG which, for the past 19 years, has arguably become one of the biggest club games in Australia.

Collingwood and Essendon work closely with the RSL to highlight Australians’ contributions in war, conflicts and peacekeeping and stress that while there is no comparison between war and football, the match can highlight Anzac qualities that continue to have relevance in our national identity.

There will always be those who miss the point, most dangerously in football commentary, drawing comparisons between battles and sport.

Geelong footballer James Kelly took to Twitter yesterday to say how such comparisons made him feel uncomfortable.

But if our sporting role models can help keep the legacy alive and understand why they must do so, then this is one important chapter in our nation’s history that will never be forgotten and help us to understand and respect the roles our modern Anzacs play in the world.

North Ballarat Roosters were encouraged to visit an Avenue of Honour, any avenue in any town, to appreciate just how many lives were lost, young lives, in war so that they may play the game they love so much in freedom today.

melanie.whelan@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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