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Hypocrisy rife in Aussie Rules


Can someone please tell me when the AFL became the moral compass for the universe? I know it’s been heading in this direction for a while but for a football club to insist that its new CEO choose between the club and his church, well that’s taking it to another level.

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It just goes to show where we have got to as a society when the ‘values’ of a football club supersede the deeply-held beliefs of an individual. Andrew Thorburn might not necessarily agree with everything his church proclaims, just as many Catholics don’t concur or abide with many of the strict obligations of their faith. But that doesn’t mean he should have to distance himself from a church and a faith that form part of his identity.

It was okay for him to be associated with the City on a Hill Church while he was CEO of a bank, which I’m sure professes to be an inclusive and ethical corporation (albeit a tarnished one after the banking Royal Commission). But not for an AFL club, hell no. I mean footy clubs never do anything wrong do they? They don’t give experimental drugs to their players and then try and hide it, they don’t have scandals where players assault women or take illicit drugs in public, they don’t have sponsors who lure young kids into gambling or are owned by nations where being gay is illegal!

A cursory look at City on a Hill’s Facebook page gives the impression of a group of people committed to living the Gospel, supporting asylum seekers, doing their bit to save the planet…sounds ominous doesn’t it. There is commentary from former NSW Premier Mike Baird and Baptist minister Tim Costello, and a discussion on how we can “love” our First Nations brothers and sisters.

In the ‘About’ section, it says City on a Hill is a movement of men and women gathered across eight churches, united around one mission – “to know Jesus and makes Jesus known”.

Pastor Guy Mason said he used the wrong words in a sermon when he said same-sex relationships were sinful and compared abortion to the Holocaust.

‘We are talking about a quote that was from 10 years ago and the intention was not to be inflammatory,’ he told Sunrise TV program last month.

‘The words were wrong, I would use different words today.

‘The essence of the message though was that Jesus is all about life, we’re inclusive, we are not homophobic, we are for life and we are for love.’

It would be interesting to know if there are any Catholic, Jewish, Muslim or other people of faith in senior positions in AFL clubs? Are their stances on abortion, euthanasia and sexuality at odds with the ‘values’ of their clubs? Ironically, many of the most successful Victorian clubs have their roots in working class Catholic suburbs…there was a time when playing football on a Sunday and, God forbid, on Good Friday, was out of the question.

Gary Ablett was overtly Christian and even thanked God when he won the Brownlow but I’m sure he wouldn’t get sacked for his beliefs nor be asked to choose between God and football!

Perhaps the only good that might come out of this crazy decision is that it may have helped garner broader support for religious freedom legislation. I know of a lot of non-religious people who are concerned about Essendon’s handling of this issue. They rightly point out that if it’s against the law to ask someone what their religion is in a job interview, then why is it okay to virtually sack them (or make it impossible for them to keep the position) less than 24 hours later.

Fr Frank Brennan SJ has stated publicly that while he supported the same-sex marriage plebiscite, he did so on the understanding that the 38 per cent of people who voted against it would not suffer any adverse discrimination for their religious views and would be free to participate respectfully in all aspects of public life ‘even in Victorian football clubs’.

Similarly, Melbourne Archbishop Peter A Comensoli said the Essendon decision ‘leaves ordinary people of faith questioning if they can publicly hold their committed beliefs’, let alone be able to exercise leadership and service in the community.

This is one of the most worrying aspects, that an office worker might not feel safe talking about going to church on the weekend or feels threatened if he or she refuses to endorse a workplace event or campaign that goes against their beliefs.

The media has gone strangely quiet over the Thorburn affair, moving on to bigger fish such as Gina Rinehart’s withdrawal of funding from the Australian national netball team. (That’s another story!)

But there is bound to be another case of sport and religion being at odds with each other as organisations grapple with what ‘inclusivity’ really means.


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