AHIMSA AND THE AFL

“AFL: Australian Football League – not the same as Rugby Union or Rugby League, distinguished by handball passes, and elegant long kicking at a goal area with two posts.

Ahimsa: a term meaning ‘not to injure’ and ‘ have compassion’. Ahimsa means harming no living beings— animals and human, birds and fish. This does include referees, and other AFL team players.”

Ahimsa is one of the critical tenets of 3 major religions, Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. It is a core value in many indigenous cultures. Its premise is all living beings have the spark of the divine spiritual energy; therefore, to hurt another being is to hurt oneself.

A game of AFL can’t start without the seemingly simple act of smashing a red Sherrin into the grass so it rebounds a good eight metres into the air.

I am multi tasking as I wrote this –  reading some yogi texts, watching the Sydney Swans smash Carlton, although you wouldn’t know by the final scoreboard.

“Can I be a yogi and an AFL fan? How do the AFL Players practice ahimsa?”

Ahimsa means you may not even harbor an uncharitable thought, even in connection with someone who would consider himself to be your enemy. As a yogi, not only is there no room for an enemy, we deny the existence of one at all.

If you have ever been to a football match in Melbourne, you would be forgiven for thinking an act of violence was about to perpetrated on referees, certain players of the opposite team, even the hot dog seller. Name calling is intense, intended to hurt and ridicule others, and treat other team fans as enemies. Intent is everything. Ask that young girl who called a certain indigenous AFL Player an Ape. If you intend to hurt, harm with words, actions or deeds, you are not practicing ahimsa. (as a footnote, this young girl has learnt ahimsa, interestingly enough due to openness of this AFL player).

“I never comment on umpires and I’m not going to break the habit of a lifetime for that prat.”  Terry Wallace

The crowd appears to be lagging. AFL teams are now surfing the mindful wave. It is showing with on and off ball play. And over the years, for those of us who watch the game, the level of dirty playing and violence has significantly reduced.

I reckon spectators of AFL are much more likely to be violent in thoughts, words and deeds than the players on the field (although Hawthorn has a reputation for some pretty unsociable football, I shall not name the players).

Lack of ahimsa by players probably is best demonstrated by ‘dirty’ playing. The intention to treat someone you play opposite as the ‘enemy’ to be taken down at all costs.

“Chewy on your boot”

Every team has dirty players – look at past and current players for the Swans, Hawthorn, and Carlton, just as examples. All teams have ‘em. Known for kicking the ball at their opponents heads, shoving an elbow into the stomach or worse when taking a mark. ‘Brain snaps’ are, however, getting fewer and far between.

What is going on?

I’d like to think ahimsa has joined the AFL culture.  Yoga is now a regular feature at many of the AFL Ladder’s top 5 weekly training. Maverick Weller from St. Kilda meditates regularly (like 5 days a week). Collingwood’s Tyson Goldsack does yoga and is an on and off again meditator.

The Roos Factor is spreading. Look at how the Demons are performing  (we miss you at the Swans, but we are doing alright). And we all know how badly behaved the Demons fans can be at games. Compassion and teamwork are the foundations of this team’s success, and they have regular pre play meditation sessions (courtesy of Roos’ wife Tami, an experienced yogini).

images-1When Brett Kirk was captain of the Sydney Swans, he was interviewed by the ABC and asked what he wanted his legacy to be. He replied “I want my legacy to be one of love”. Brett the Buddhist led his team to many years of beautifully played AFL.

Back to the crowds…

To practice ahimsa, you need to discipline the wandering mind, hence meditation. And its partner in non violence, is peaceful resistance (yogis don’t acquiesce to unfairness or violence).

Easier said than done.  I’ve done it –  seen a bad referee call, some off ball biffo, and all of a sudden, I am yelling at the referee, at the universe, anyone really.

How might we practice ahimsa watching the Grand Final?

Do what the Demons do – practice some pre game meditation. When you see some off ball violence, do not strike back, blow for blow, in words or deeds. Say ‘bad karma baby’. Give them the peace sign (hand signals allowed:)) My dream commentator team would HG, Roy and Dennis Commetti call the grand final. I miss the elegant and not so elegant humour these guys have that truly demonstrates the practice of ahimsa.

“Spider had both his legs taken out from under him — leaving only the other six to balance on” Dennis Commetti

An edited version of this article appeared in the September 2016 ANZA Singapore magazine.  I am posting this as I watch, Sting, a 40 year veteran of yoga, sing at the AFL grand final 2016 – Swans vs Dogs. Go swannies!

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