A Melburnian has such great choice in sport. Which is to say, you can elect to be fanatical about it, or ignore it and be a social pariah. Kosta, my 70-something neighbour, says he became a Collingwood supporter soon after arriving in Australia from the Peloponnese in 1954.  He preferred the world game to Australian rules but found that a black-and-white scarf and the adoption of terms like “corridor” and “come on, you mongrel” were  a fast track to social inclusion.

To pinch an idea from George Orwell, to abolish social distinction, you have to abolish part of yourself, and a half-century after Kosta replaced his mild interest in soccer with a consuming interest in footy, I moved to this sports-mad town and replaced not giving a shit with giving one. The minute I joined the St Kilda FC and picked up a little footy cant, this mild abolition of my preferences meant that I could talk to many more people, including Kosta, for long periods of time.

A mutual indifference to our own preferences in Melbourne and a city-wide love of sports — and these days, we’ll even go and watch the rugby — makes this a slightly better town than it might be otherwise. I don’t particularly like sport, but I find participation in it is a really small price to pay for full citizenship.

These days, I will shout “kick it down the middle” in a Saints scarf a few times a year, and I participate, slowly, in distance running events (I am crap at sport and couldn’t possibly inflict myself on a team). When I was training for last year’s marathon, I would puff past a bikini car wash every other day en route to social acceptance. This place had received a good deal of press since its opening for its conflation of sexism with automotive maintenance, but in six months of afternoon running, I never once saw a single vehicle in a scene from Cool Hand Luke.

I’m out of form this year and I’m just training for the half, so my runs didn’t often take me the full distance to the car wash. But about a month ago, I broke 10km again, and I noticed that the place had closed.

At a St Kilda FC fundraising event I was talking to a stripper called Krissy, and I asked her professional opinion. She told me that the more conventional and openly “stripper-y” employment opportunities were diminishing and said: “These days, I have to call myself burlesque.”

“In practical terms, Legends’ loss of a broadcast partner means that a few dozen female athletes have lost income, and socially speaking this closure means there is one fewer place for Orwell’s dreams of the abolition of class to take place.”

Being me, I found this hilarious. The market for naked ladies has not narrowed, but the branding certainly has. Just as sepia erotica is now more acceptable than common porn, the “ironic” feathers of burlesque have begun to eclipse the G-string conventions of the common strip club. People are still masturbating to the image of a sexy lady. They are just doing it with mocking panache.

Sport in Melbourne might be a rare moment that abolishes class, and it would have pleased Orwell that it has led a middle-class writer to friendship with a working-class stripper. Aussie rules offers temporary respite from cultural distinction, but one’s choice in naked ladies certainly doesn’t.

It is “tacky” to pay a woman to hump your car in a swimsuit but it is fine for her to hump your leg in retro garments. Just as it is unacceptable to watch lingerie gridiron, rebranded last year as the Legends Football League, but it is supportive and feminist to watch women play roller derby in hotpants.

I am secretly unmoved by sport, but I do consider all forms of it equal. Of course, Legends was different from derby in that it was professionalised and employed, albeit it at a reportedly paltry wage, professional athletes. And of course, despite its adoption of superheroine outfits almost identical to those at the equally fun derby, it was shown on free-to-air TV.

But as of this week, it seems that Legends no longer has a broadcast partner.

This may have a little to do with the tedious ministrations of Collective Shout, an organisation tireless in its putatively feminist quest to reduce “unacceptable” employment opportunities for working women. But I’d say it also has more to do with the taste of a masturbating public who now prefer to spooge ironically.

To argue that the appeal of Legends ever inhered in the very creditable abilities of its players is stupid, of course. Then again, to argue that the more classless code played in the AFL has nothing to do with sex is identically foolish. I mean, the half-time broadcast in last weekend’s grand final focused on the marvelous near-naked bodies of rucks in the change room and, frankly, it was about half a pump pack of lube away from being gay porn. Sport is erotically charged, and even if the bodies that carry this spark do not happen to be of the form in which you are interested, the question of desire is one consistently asked in every tackle.

All this aside, the women’s gridiron game might have been more unapologetically “impure” as a sport. I mean, I thought it was great fun and found nothing to despise about big, fit women in hotpants. But it was as adulterated by spectacle as the now-closed Kittens car wash. The AFL can claim to be much more legitimate, I guess.

In practical terms, Legends’ loss of a broadcast partner means that a few dozen female athletes have lost income, and socially speaking this closure means there is one fewer place for Orwell’s dreams of the abolition of class to take place.

I am sure, of course, that Legends was a far more working-class affair than derby, which, when I have attended, seems to be largely populated by tertiary-educated women and their masturbating allies. Certainly, it never cut across class like the AFL. But neither does derby, which is basically as posh as rugby union.

Even so, this “tacky” code now terminated in its early development is nothing to sing about. And, given the unifying power I have felt in singing the (dreadful) St Kilda club song along with strippers and post-war migrants and many people who I can forget for four quarters are socially different from me, I don’t see how the defeat of Legends is a good thing at all.

Peter Fray

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