The Guardian July 18, 2001


South Sydney: "We never gave in"

by Tom Pearson*

The decision on July 6 by the Federal Court which opened the way for the 
South Sydney football club to participate in next year's rugby league 
competition, is an example of how the power of the people's collective 
action can triumph over corporate greed. It was at once a blow against the 
domineering and ruthless media monopoly and a victory for the world-wide 
movement against corporate globalisation, of which the takeover of sport is 
part.

The hijacking of rugby league by Rupert Murdoch is in concert with the 
drive by the transnational corporations to appropriate anything and 
everything that will turn a profit. Ordinary people everywhere are fighting 
this with a deep-rooted determination, as was reflected in the mass actions 
of Souths supporters.

The full bench of the Federal Court found that the Murdoch-controlled 
National Rugby League (NRL) had acted illegally when it cut Souths from the 
competition in 1999. The Court ruled that the NRL had breached the Trades 
Practices Act; that the Club's exclusion was a restriction of trade. Souths 
are now definite starters in the 2002 competition.

The decision casts the future of the forced mergers of other clubs in 
doubt. Wests Tigers (Western Suburbs and Balmain), Northern Eagles (Norths 
and Manly), and St George Illawarra were made to amalgamate when Murdoch's 
News Ltd and Kerry Packer came to an agreement and News Ltd set up the NRL.

It has been a long battle in and out of the courts  funded mainly by 
supporters  over the past two years.

Souths have won through because one of the elements which holds the 
community together is their sport: sporting clubs operating as membership-
controlled entities; volunteer parents as coaches, managers and organisers 
of their children's games; the vast and interconnected schools sport 
system; publicly owned swimming pools, sporting fields and cycle ways.

Such conscious awareness of ownership and democratic control fuels pride in 
achievement and forges community relationships. Such connections can run 
deep.

After Souths lost their first attempt in court, in December 1999, one 
Souths member told how he and his father, who had died two years before, 
had gone to nearly all Souths games since he was a child.

The very existence of the Souths football club was a link to the memory of 
his father, a link that Murdoch would not understand and tried to cut.

At the massive protests organised by Souths, News Ltd newspapers were 
burned in the streets.

At the rallies, Club President George Piggins made the telling point that 
if the other Clubs had refused to accept the mergers foisted on them, the 
resistance against the hijacking of the game would have been tremendously 
stronger. "We had faith in our supporters and our community", he said. 
Unity is strength.

The Souths juniors' competition has been hurt as young players left to try 
their luck at making grade in other districts.

"It's going to give all the children in the area something to strive for 
now", said juniors' coach Darren McCarthy. "We have lost a hell of a lot of 
kids to other clubs and other districts because they had no career path 
through to a first-grade NRL team."

Following the Federal Court decision, George Piggins summed up the 
community's never-say-die spirit: "We've been fighting for this day since 
1994, when the Super League war [Murdoch's breakaway competition] started, 
and we're here today because we never gave in."

* * *
* Tom Pearson is a life-long South Sydney supporter.

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