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.