Open voices

Leading into January 26 this year, Cricket Australia announced that it would drop the Australia Day marketing from the fixtures on the day, referring to them simply by date. This was a progressive and welcome gesture in my book, but the PM took issue with it, trotting out the time-worn cliche that CA should stick to cricket and leave politics alone.

Anyone possessing any sense of irony would know how silly – and hypocritical – a statement that was. How many times have politicians sought to associate themselves with sports and sportsmen? How often has sport been used as a bargaining chip or for leverage? It’s so ridiculous it barely rates a response.

Yesterday, a number of sporting clubs posted messages of support for the growing community for whom January 26 is a day of mourning. It was a mark of respect and compassion, though many saw it differently. I was glad that my footy club was one of those who made that gesture, though I read commentary from many others who threatened to tear up their membership because of it. Many others urged the club to concentrate on the footy and to stick to sports.

There’s a couple of things I want to address here. I’m happy that more organisations have acknowledged the grief the day entails for so many (including many of their supporters). It doesn’t disown history but recognises that history is not all tales of glory.

The other thing is something that has bugged me for more years than I can remember. How many times have you heard someone suggest that so-and-so should stick to sport (or whatever), and steer clear of politics?

Take a gander at Twitter. Every man and his dog has an opinion and are happy to share it, often quite violently. But as soon as a sportsman or an actor or a sports journalist and so on voice a dissenting opinion they get piled upon as if they’re not entitled to share it.

Is it because of some prejudice that common folk hold that such public figures don’t have worthy opinions? Is it simple dissonance when their opinion is different from yours, and therefore offensive? Or is it from fear that someone with such a profile might ‘unfairly’ influence others? (Funnily, it seems to me that many who complain are otherwise those who squeal loudest about their right to free speech.)

Whatever the reason, it’s bogus.

This conversation plays more generally into the discussion around free speech. It’s not a simple discussion because as a right it’s been elevated to a higher plain. Not everyone who asserts this right fully understands what it means, or what responsibilities come with it. The banning of Trump from multiple social-media platforms underline that.

Mine is just another opinion. By and large, I believe free speech should be paramount, but it comes with responsibility, and some caveats.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion. Within limits, everyone is entitled to express it – even the idiots I disagree with. The limits are important because they’re one of the elements that make for us a civilised society. That’s why we have laws and why we recognise boundaries and come to know – mostly – the difference between right and wrong.

I think many see free speech, and similar ‘rights’, as absolutes. That’s simplistic and dangerous and mostly unrealistic. Most reasonable people would agree that, as a society, we should be protected from those who would elect to incite hate or violence. Likewise, we’ve seen the danger when people and organisations claim lies as truth.

In an educated and rational society, we would be capable of discriminating between lies and truth, between reason and unreason – but that’s utopian. If it ever was, it certainly isn’t the case now. If responsibility cannot be guaranteed, then there must be checks and balances to maintain a civil discourse, more or less. With that caveat, I think most of us still enjoy 99% of what free speech portends.

Getting back to my original point, a sportsman or an actor has as much right to an opinion, and expressing it, as anyone else. To claim otherwise is either stupidity or prejudice. I welcome anyone who has a thoughtful contribution to make, even if I disagree with it.

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