Western Sydney Wanderers and Perth Glory players – along with their Adelaide United and Melbourne City counterparts – have the privilege to play on the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli this Saturday.
It’s also the first time the Hyundai A-League has fixtures set down on arguably Australia’s most important day. Everyone fortunate enough to be involved has a responsibility to be respectful and graceful.
The AFL and NRL have already bedded down their ANZAC Day traditions and whilst some might reasonably suggest the addition of another only further distracts from the true meaning of the occasion, any such argument perhaps runs counter to history.
In 1916, as recounted by the Australian War Memorial, first commemorations of 25 April included a sports day in the Australian camp in Egypt. Sport – and not just by its own insistence – does have a place on ANZAC Day. It was pivotal to nation-building then and remains so today; upheld as essential to our sense of identity.
Sport historian Dr Ian Syson has previously detailed football’s claims to a worthy place within the ANZAC legend. It’s nice to know, but the Hyundai A-League’s first steps onto the landscape must still be made in full understanding of the day’s grander meaning for Australians and New Zealanders.
Any arguments about which code does it best are unwanted, as is hyperbole attached to the efforts of its competitors.
It’s a tough task trying to reconcile the ultimate inanity of sport with this day of sombre remembrance. Strained comparisons between the competitive actions of athletes and the sacrifices of soldiers during the conflict of war are certainly unhelpful. They just don’t exist; even with the warmest of intentions, that kind of talk is easily tacky and insensitive.
Players hopefully embody the spirit of servicemen and servicewomen just the same as any of their peers away from the pitch. Those revered virtues of courage and mateship are for all to embrace and celebrate.
Saturday’s sporting events, whether here in Parramatta, over in Adelaide, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground or any of the five venues hosting rugby league matches this weekend are a chance to reinforce those values.
That is sport’s opportunity to make a worthwhile contribution to ANZAC Day. Not to watch others act in a manner we think may be representative of heroism but to come together and reflect on what it truly takes.
May Saturday’s match serve as a backdrop for us all to remember and contemplate. Lest we forget.