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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 20. 1972

Political Football

page 13

Political Football.

Gold Star Publications, Melbourne, 1972, $1.95.

"If you read this book I suggest you treat it as a cautionary tale of what could happen even in such a green and pleasant land as yours." Noel Adams' advice to New Zealanders (N.Z. Listener, August 14, 1972) sums up the most important thing about Stewart Harris's account of the 1971 Springbok Tour of Australia for us. Political Football is a fairly superficial account of the tour, as the author says " a quick reporting job", but it does convey the atmosphere of the tour and the anger of the Times of London's respectable Australian correspondant at the "whole stupid, unnecessary, brutal and divisive thing." "It wasn't, I think, the Iault of the Springboks", writes Harris in the opening chapter of his book, "but as they travelled around Australia they reminded me of a little bag of stinking fishheads, the kind which fishermen sweep across the sand on beaches to bring up worms for bait. The Springboks brought out much within Australian life today that crawls and is hidden and nasty. But just as the worms catch good fish, so did the Springbok tour move many Australians to think much more about the character of their country and about the world of which it was a part, and this was good."

Although Harris makes his sympathies with the opponents of the tour quite clear. Political Football should be of greater value to the 'leaders' of our country and to the great, non-protesting silent majority than to people already committed to stopping the 1973 Springbok Tour of New Zealand. His establishment qualifications are pretty good, and his account of the Australian tour shows quite clearly that it is just not worthwhile dividing a country and bringing out the nastiness in people for a game of football. Not that Harris laments the political power of a small group of protestors. On the contrary he welcomes it, and explains the importance of protest in a way which would be very educative for Mr Marshall and Mr Kirk, if they are willing to learn.

Political Football doesn't contain very much that will surprise people already opposed to next year's tour. It doesn't provide any explanation of the tactics used to disrupt the Australian tour (which is neither surprising nor a criticism of Harris). However the vividness of Harris account made me recollect the 1970 demonstrations against the All Black tour of South Africa, and was a powerful reminder of what it will be like next year, if the tour comes. For that reason especially, people should read it. Next year's Springbok tour is less than nine months away now.

While Stewart Harris makes his sympathies with the protestors clear, he managed to transcend both sides during the Australian tour and praises Charles Blunt (President of the Australian Rugby Union) as well as leaders of the anti-apartheid movement No doubt this aspect of his book will strike a lot of people as something of a contradiction. More important, however is his discussion of police behaviour during the tour, a dominant theme of the book. Harris starts from the premise that, "......the police force is not like other organisations. It is the only arm of the law and, as such, must be expected to have higher standards than any other organisation in the country. It is the arm of the law, and not the arm of the government." (my emphasis).

In my opinion, it is quite illusory to regard the police force in any country as the "arm of the law, and not the arm of the government." After all the law is not something neutral but the expression of the political interests that governments represent. The vague and sweeping language of section 3D of the Police Offences Amendment Act in New Zealand for example was not written by accident or chance, but deliberately, for the express purpose of hindering demonstrations. Of course Mr Marshall knows this better than most people.

Harris represents police 'misconduct' during the Springbok tour as a deviation from the standards the police should have. But Isn't it to be expected that the police will look the other way when a rugby supporter thumps a student, and refuse to take any action however disgusting and hypocritical it is? That is what happened at a match at Too-woomba in Queensland towards the end of the tour, and Harris records how he tried in vain to take up the incident with the police and finally made a statement to the Communist Party's paper The Tribune after being ignored by the Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian.

While I felt rather cynical about a lot of Harris' comments about police behaviour, his account shows that it is wrong to regard the police as merely a monolithic, unthinking machine hammering the non-conformist sections of society. There were divisions in the police force in Australia, as there no doubt will be in New Zealand next year. But in the final analysis, it is illusory and misleading to think that the police can be 'independent' and 'impartial'. When the cops get into the longhairs next year it will be extremely unpleasant and very annoying, but it should still be expected.

A lotof people will be interested in this book to find out if non-violent disruptive protest is an effective tactic. In Australia last year, the protestors didn't succeed in stopping tour or in stopping any of the games. Of course they 'alienated' a lot of people. But they did succeed in stopping the 1971/72 Springbok cricket tour of Australia and, as Noel Adams argues, any other all-white Springbok Tour of Australia in the future. Their greatest achievement, as Harris says, was to show up what sort of people Australians are, by bringing out the worst and the best in people. Political Football didn't convince me that the anti -apartheid movement in Australia could have accomplished those things by non-disruptive "mass actions". If the Springboks come here next year and H.A.R.T. and C.A.R.E. are accused of dividing New Zealand and 'alienating' the majority of people from their cause, their answer should be 'thank the Jack Marshalls and Jack Sullivans and Adolf Vorsters for dividing people, not us!'

Finally I think Stewart Harris has done New Zealanders, as well as Australians, a service by writing Political Football. If the parliamentarians and the sporting bodies ignore the practical lessons of playing apartheid sport, as well as the intellectual reasons why we shouldn't play with South Africa or have any other contact with Hitler's successors, they will not be able to plead ignorance later.

— Peter Franks

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