Sport and Protest in the City

Sport in the City:

Sporting events are deeply strategic opportunities for regenerating urban space and for attracting tourists – whether domestic or international. The football World Cup and the Olympics are the world’s biggest sporting events and the rights to host them are contested intensely, even if the legacy of holding the events are somewhat problematic.

These games were a part of Melbourne’s ongoing campaign to establish itself as the world’s premier sporting city. Incidentally, Melbourne also brands itself as being ‘a literary city’ and is duly accredited by UNESCO. The city is also well-known for its coffee and culinary scene.

‘Melbourne’ is founded upon the place known as Naarm and is on Wurundjeri Country which makes up a part of the Kulin Nation. Melbourne’s founder, John Batman, reputedly made a ‘treaty’ with Wurundjeri elders – purportedly with Bebejan and Jika Jika –  but this ‘treaty’ has come to be regarded as fraudulent. The State Government of Victoria has started a process in consultation with Aboriginal Elders and Leaders to establish a treaty.

Screen Shot 2018-04-03 at 12.36.31 pmMelbourne’s hosting of the Commonwealth Games in 2006, and the 2018 Games on the Gold Coast present a necessary moment for interrogating the relationship between sport and the city. For Melbourne, the Games were further consolidation of the city’s reputation as a sporting capital. For the Gold Coast, they are in part an effort at the city’s rebranding – partly to show that it is a ‘serious‘ place. that it is a destination for reasons other than for its leisure amenities.

Glasgow’s games of 2014 were also central to re-generating the city’s image. Writing in The Age, Phil Lutton states, “somewhat like the Gold Coast, it was another city with an unwanted reputation to discard, that being of the industrial ugly sister to Edinburgh’s royal splendour” (31st March 2018, p.42). Lutton also makes the prescient judgement that “the Games are likely to be declared a roaring success”. Yes, they will. Indeed, that is part of the boosterism that the holding of such mega-events requires.

There are several key themes that, for me, need to be considered when thinking about these games. These are:

  • ‘Melbourne as an Indigenous City’: how is an Indigenous space claimed within colonial-post-colonial Melbourne? What is the Indigenous history of the city, pre- and post-British colonial settlement? How were First Nations peoples dispossessed of their land?
  • ‘Melbourne’s Sports Heritage’: What are the significant sites and events that have helped foster the image of the city as Australia’s sport’s capital, and as a host of international sporting events?
  • ‘Eventisation of Melbourne’: How has the Victorian State Government and Melbourne City Council sought to re-brand and re-vitalise the city through the hosting of nationally and internationally attractive events – both sporting and culture?
  • ‘Indigenous Protests at the Games’: How did Indigenous activists protest against the Games? What were the main points made against the Games? How was Colonial history critiqued? How was the Camp Sovereignty established as a site of protest?
  • ‘Indigenous Representation and Involvement in the Games’: How was Indigenous culture represented in the Opening and Closing ceremonies at the MCG? What were the Indigenous symbols that were incorporated into the Games? How were Indigenous businesses targeted and involved in the Game’s organisation? What were the conflicts and issues debated and negotiated within Indigenous media?

Screen Shot 2018-04-03 at 12.43.34 pmThe role and presence of sport in the city is multilayered and complex. Sport in the city relates to participation, infrastructure and fandom. Holding events creates temporary spaces and spatial practices. Mega-events facilitate the implementation of short-term laws that allow for strict policing. Even the hosting of second-tier sporting competitions provide an opportunity to foster urban development and corporatisation of public spaces, while limiting spaces for dissent.


Reading Sideways