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Apr 22, 2010

Anzac Day: when commemoration becomes commerce

Francis Leach asks whether Collingwood and Essendon should have the automatic rights to play footy in honour of the ANZACs if they continue to abuse it.

Earlier this week, Collingwood Football Club began running an Anzac Day-themed advertisement on Melbourne radio to spruik its membership.

The voice of former captain and future coach Nathan Buckley can be heard selling the benefits of the deal. It includes a reserved seat at the Anzac Day game (one of the hottest tickets on the sporting calendar) as well as a couple of other matches and access to finals tickets.

All the while the sound of the Last Post played in the background as Buckley made his sales pitch. It seemed Anzac Day footy had become what it had threatened to be for a while.

Commemoration had become commerce.

My SEN radio program made inquiries to the RSL about the efficacy of the use of the Last Post in the advertisement and it is fair to say they were none too pleased. To the Magpies’ credit, having been made aware of the RSL’s concerns, they instantly withdrew the advertisement and replaced the Last Post with the Collingwood theme song.

The Anzac Day memberships remain on sale and the Anzac imprint is still part of Collingwood’s retail pitch. And it raises a wider question about how sport, war and business have become allied with the re-birth of Anzac Day.

Ever since Kevin Sheedy and then Collingwood administrator Graeme Allan instigated the first Collingwood-Essendon Anzac Day clash in 1995 (which ended in a famous draw — a stalemate — the irony of which wouldn’t have been lost on those who fought in the filth and mud of the Western Front in WW1) the Anzac Day clash has become the most prestigious non-finals fixture in Australian sport.

It’s also a big money spinner. It’s the third biggest day for the Melbourne Cricket Club after the grand final and Boxing Day Test. For the TV and media partners, it delivers huge audiences and big revenue.

Many AFL fans of other clubs resent the monopoly the Bombers and Magpies hold over the day. As a day of national significance they feel excluded from the experience of the occasion.

The ugly turf war that is the annual squabble over who plays on Anzac Day diminishes everyone who takes part in it. The arguments over the crowd size, the “blockbuster” status of the game and even ridiculous claims that football (read Essendon and Collingwood) saved Anzac Day deserve to be filled under M for Moronic.

No one owns Anzac Day; it lives in the memory of those who served. And the size of the crowd at a football match is irrelevant. The silence of a few gathered in solemn contemplation is just as profound as that of the tens of thousands who might do it at the MCG.

Anzac Day is never about who is there, but about those who could never be.

That being said, Essendon and Collingwood have been wonderful custodians of the occasion and have done their best to strike the right balance of solemnity and dignity to the day. I believe as long as they continue to do so they should be trusted with the sacred responsibility of upholding that tradition. Thus far, they’ve proven themselves worthy.

However, using Anzac Day as a sales pitch crosses the line. As does any football coach who compares his actions in lying to the media with those of a wartime leader hunkered down in a bunker under London as the Luftwaffe razed the city. The same with footy teams trekking Kokoda searching for inspiration for the season ahead.

The sacrifices of the many should never become an opportunity for the few — whatever their endeavours are.

And the clichés about sport and war, sacrifices and mateship and playing with “The Anzac spirit” could only be uttered by those of us lucky enough not to have had our lives and those of our loved ones ruined by war.

Maybe that’s why the generations who lived through such horrors and carried the burden of such losses felt so indifferent to Anzac Day for so long. They understood that the blood myths and over-ripe nationalist sentimentality that can accompany memorial days such as  Anzac Day bore no relation to the truth about suffering war’s cruelty.

Now a generation that has never had to know the names, faces and stories of those who were lost and left behind see Anzac Day as something completely different.

Anzac Day is in danger of becoming a day about us.

And that should never be allowed to happen.

*Back Page Lead is a new sports opinion website that provides sports content to Crikey.

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4 thoughts on “Anzac Day: when commemoration becomes commerce

  1. Mike

    I agree that Anzac Day should not be treated as a commercial commodity. A great example of commercialism is the current PR campaign with Peter Cosgrove lauding the benefits of VB beer in Legacy and CUB’s Raise the Glass Anzac Day campaign.
    Surely the Diggers deserve better than being used as a platform to flog booze – a commodity that probably ranks fairly closely in the number of deaths through alcoholism to those killed in warfare in modern times.

  2. juzzy

    Excellent piece, Francis. Collingwood’s relentless tacky self-promotion knows no bounds.
    Remember a few years back when Eddie had to be talked out of getting some sheikh who owned a chunk of Emirates Airlines on to toss the coin for the ANZAC day match? I also love how every famous American who comes here has to wrap a Magpies scarf around themselves and feign interest.
    Yes, I hate Collingwood, but is it any wonder?

  3. Matt Arkell

    Mere seconds after finishing this article this evening, I watched an ad on Foxtel using the last post to advertise the game. seems that although Collingwood worked out it was a bad move, the AFL hasn’t got the same message. Maybe since it was advertising the game, not selling a product, that’s ok?

    Oh, wait…

  4. Leo Braun

    “Anzac Day: When commemoration becomes commerce”! Luckily, keenly debated aspects of mounting dilemma were tackled by now!