How Teaching Children About Sports Is The Same As Teaching Them About Religion.

The World Cup is currently underway. Oh sure, there’s many of them (world cups that is), but in many parts of the world those two words are interchangeable with FIFA World Cup.

I’m sure that just like my one, your Facebook’s news feed is filled with friends, family, acquaintances, companies, and pages you follow sharing quips, memes and links about this quadrennial sporting event. There’s plenty of memes being shared by passionate followers of the game, many paying out on their opposing teams, many singling out a player whether he’s on an opposing team in their pool, or just a player of note worth “bringing down.”

And then there’s those other memes. The ones shared by those who are not fans of the World Game (yes, that’s seriously a title given to this sport). And there are distractors of this event who will inevitably start or join in on what might be one of the greatest debates in the modern history of this planet…

Which sport is the true Football?

It’s not just during the FIFA World Cup that this argument goes on, but now that the world is connected via social media, and even before that, other forums on the Internet, the Football Debate rages on.

I grew up in “the heartland” of Rugby League; that being Western Sydney. For many living outside of this area, say those in the “rivalling” areas such as the Eastern Suburbs, the Shire and the Northern Beaches, Rugby League is very much a part of their make-up so we could easily extend the heartland moniker to include the greater Sydney area.

I’m going to interject this part of my article with a short list. This is the list of sports that are all referred to as football by their followers, the organisations and governing bodies, and the media.

  • Association Football – also known as Soccer
  • Rugby Union – often just called Rugby
  • Rugby League – often just called League
  • American Football – also known as Gridiron
  • Canadian Football – also known as Gridiron
  • Australian Rules Football – also known as Aussie Rules
  • Gaelic Football – often just called Gaelic

I have not listed the variants of these sports, like the Sevens or Nines version (played at the Olympics or pre-season tournaments), indoor or beach versions, and the touch or tag versions. I have also excluded from the list hybrid versions such as International Rules which is played by the best Aussie Rules players from Australia versus the best Gaelic Football players from Ireland.

The neighbours to the right of me had a father who was born and raised in Germany. For him Soccer was the true Football. The neighbours on the other side were from England. To the man of that household, Soccer was also the true Football. The son of the German father played competitive Soccer on the weekends but joined with the rest of the neighbourhood boys playing League at the park across the road from our house as well as supporting the (then) Eastern Suburbs Roosters.

A Soccer versus American Football meme shared by one of my American friends
A Soccer versus American Football meme shared by one of my American friends

Although my own parents were both born and raised in England, only my mother had her own Premier League Football (Soccer) team that she followed. But her true passion was for her Rugby League team; the Parramatta Eels. My older brother knew that our part of Sydney was in the Western Suburbs so he was a dedicated Western Suburbs Magpies fan. As the younger brother an recipient of hand-me-down clothes, I ended up being a Magpies fan, not by choice, but because the supporters jersey fit me.

When I was old enough to make up my own mind, when I was almost 10 years old, I followed my favourite player Terry Lamb (who played for the Magpies from 1980-1983) when he switched to the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in 1984. It was at that time when I started catching up to my brother in height so getting his hand-me-downs was becoming rare or slow at the very least. There was a boy who lived behind us who would go on to be six foot tall by his fifteenth birthday and he was now supplying me with hand-me-down clothes. He was a Bulldogs fan and my mother had accepted a whole lot of Bulldogs tops and jerseys from his mother so it was “fitting” that I switched.

Back when I first got into Rugby League, the premier competition in Australia (and one might argue, the world) was known as the NSWRL (New South Wales Rugby League). All of the teams were Sydney based until 1982 when a team from Wollongong which is 90 minutes from Sydney City and a team from the nation’s capital of Canberra which is three hours away from Sydney joined. It wasn’t until 1988 when three more teams joined including one from Newcastle which is two hours north of Sydney along with two teams from another state, Queensland joined which meant the game was moving towards a national appeal.

Years later the competition would go on to change its name to the ARL (Australian Rugby League) which lasted for three years until the end of the Super League Wars which culminated in the split competitions coming together to form what is now known as the NRL (National Rugby League).

In Australia in 2014 we have four major football codes all vying for our hard earned cash, our time, our patronage and our money (yes, I mentioned that twice for a reason). Along with the NRL we have the A-League (Soccer), the AFL (Aussie Rules) and a competition called Super Rugby (Rugby Union) which pits five teams from Australia against five from New Zealand and five from South Africa. This is seen as the premier Union competition in this country as the next tier down is currently state based amateur competitions although this will be replaced in August 2014 with the NRC (National Rugby Championship).

The national Australian Rules competition was known as the VFL (Victorian Football League) until 1990 when it changed its name for the national appeal. Like the NSWRL being focused originally on teams from the state of New South Wales or more precisely, the greater Sydney area, the VFL was state based with teams from Victoria, chiefly the greater area of Melbourne vying for the cup.

In the same year (1982) that those two teams outside of the greater Sydney area joined in the NSWRL competition, a team from another state played in the VFL. That team was located in my home city of Sydney and they were the Sydney Swans. Unlike the Rugby League competition which had brand new teams joining the NSWRL, the VFL had sanctioned the South Melbourne Swans who were financially struggling to make the move to Sydney.

Another meme shared by an American friend
Another meme shared by an American friend (Scarily, this looks like the Modern Father Online logo)

The VFL was relegated to being almost like an afterthought on the nightly news broadcast in Sydney with only the scores of the matches shown for a fleeting second. My brother and I had dabbled in watching the Aussie Rules competition on television even before the Swans moved into our territory watching the grand final of the VFL which traditionally was held on the Saturday before the Rugby League grand final that was held the very next day. It was part of the grand final weekend tradition in our house. But, before the Swans moved to Sydney, I seriously couldn’t tell you who I supported, and I’m fairly sure I didn’t really care who won.

I called this post “How Teaching Children About Sports Is The Same As Teaching Them About Religion” and right now, for those of you who have kept that in mind you’re wondering when I am going to get to the point. But my guess is, those smart people amongst my reader (and I know that’s most of you) have already worked it out.

Richard Dawkins put it perfectly the God Delusion;

“If you are religious at all it is overwhelmingly probable that your religion is that of your parents. If you were born in Arkansas and you think Christianity is true and Islam false, knowing full well that you would think the opposite if you had been born in Afghanistan, you are the victim of childhood indoctrination.”

I want to point out at this stage the words “overwhelmingly probable” were used because this is not an absolute. Using an example from the world of sports (seeing this IS actually about sports rather than being about religion), when Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Clay Jr to a Mathodist father, he was raised Baptist by his mother before famously converting to Islam. But Dawkins’ claim rings true as the young Cassius was raised a religion forced upon him by a parent.

So let me rewrite Dawkins’ claim and add an Australian sporting flavour to it;

“If you are sporty at all it is overwhelmingly probable that your sport is that of your state. If you were born in Victoria and you think Australian Rules is best and Rugby League is not so great, knowing full well that you would think the opposite if you had been born in New South Wales, you are the victim of sporting indoctrination.”

But what about those living in New South Wales who are Rugby Union fans rather than Rugby League fans? Both Rugby League and Rugby Union come from the same source, the amateur and “ruleless” (sic) sport of Rugby Football. This game, whilst precursor to many of current “carry the ball in your hands” style footballs (yes, the irony is not lost on me) including League, Union, Gridiron, Aussie Rules and Gaelic Football, it never had defined rules hence why the games it spawned were defined by their documented rulebooks.

As Tony Collins wrote in his book “Rugby’s Great Split: Class, Culture and the Origins of Rugby League Football,” the followers of Union and League can be divided by social, cultural and economic divisions that led to the creation of Rugby League by the working class in England as opposed to Union’s upper class to middle-class following. The same can be said for the games in Australia with many private schools and universities fielding Rugby Union teams, especially in those higher income and wealthier areas, whilst those areas that are traditionally known as working class suburbs fielding Rugby League teams.

Whilst there is no doubting that Association Football (Soccer) is the biggest of all the football codes in England, both League and Union have their followers with League’s followers residing predominately in the north of the country in those working class areas, whereas Union is more popular in the South (especially in London) and the Midlands.

As I “travel” the world; whether it be in person, on the Internet or by talking to people from other countries in my home country, I find that depending on where you originate from, you will undoubtedly prefer the code of Football that is more popular in your country or state, or that of your parents if they were a major influence on your sporting life.

For most Australians, it is rare to call any of the codes Football, rather like many names, we tend to shorten them or give a nickname for them with “footy” being used for both Rugby League and Australian Rules followers (hence the television shows called The Footy Show AFL and The Footy Show NRL). Many Union fans refer to the game as Ruggers whilst Australians, at large will refer to Association Football as Soccer.

Because the term Football as demonstrated in this article can be deemed an umbrella to all those football codes that I listed earlier in this piece, for the next part I will refer to what is commonly known as Football in more countries than the other codes, and what is known as Association Football for differentiation purposes as Soccer. It will just mean I get to type less.

Those from the South American continent refer to Soccer as the true Football. So do the Europeans including those in England who will refer to the other codes played there as Union or League. In Ireland where they have three codes that are equally as popular as the next, they refer to those sports as Football (Soccer), Gaelic and Union. Australia and New Zealand will refer to the sports as League, Union, Soccer and Aussie Rules. Americans and Canadians will refer to Gridiron or (a.k.a. American Football or Canadian Football) as Football and Soccer as Soccer. In most Asian countries where the other forms of football are not very popular or even played there at all, Soccer is called Football.

The question of which is the better form of the sports we call Football is akin to asking which is the true religion. I guess it depends on which one you were indoctrinated into.

3 thoughts on “How Teaching Children About Sports Is The Same As Teaching Them About Religion.

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