Face-off: Was ABC2’s football coverage inappropriate?

Did the ABC score an own goal?

Last Wednesday, ABC2 covered the friendly match between England’s Liverpool FC and Sydney FC. The coverage was partly hosted by comedians Aaron Chen, Tegan Higginbotham, and Steen Raskopoulous. The coverage attracted both praise and derision across social media.

Kishor Napier-Raman argues for:

ABC2’s coverage of last Wednesday’s friendly between Sydney FC and Liverpool FC was a patronising and lazy insult to football fans riddled with classist undertones.

I know that many Inner West latte-sippers wear both their lack of athletic ability and nonchalant indifference towards sport like a badge of honour. Sport evokes images of racist fans, and violent, drug-fucked leading men addicted to fame and toxic masculinity. Unlike say, stand-up comedy, sport is a lesser form of entertainment reserved for the westies, the bogans, and boorish, beer-swilling alpha-males.

This caricature of the average football fan as an uncouth caveman makes it easy for many to snootily look down upon those of us who dare enjoy ‘sportsball’. But not only is this narrative tired and inaccurate, it’s insulting to the billions worldwide for whom sport is a secular religion.

ABC’s coverage of the Liverpool game epitomises this snobbish dismissal of sports fans. Rightly or wrongly, the ABC is often viewed as a channel for inner city elites. By turning their coverage into a meme, ABC2 told football fans around the country that their game didn’t deserve the dignity of being taken seriously, and was little more to them than a source of cheap laughs.

This is not to suggest that sport should be totally immune from comedic treatment. Nor should its more problematic elements be insulated from fair critique. Indeed, presenters like Santo Cilauro, Ed Kavalee and Sam Pang (who host a podcast on the ABC) are evidence that humorous attention can be drawn to football’s less glamorous aspects in a manner which doesn’t insult the intelligence of fans.

But the ABC’s Liverpool coverage did none of those things. Instead, the visit of one of football’s biggest and most storied clubs was used as an opportunity to laugh at people for daring to like different things from the average ABC comedy viewer.

The presenters barely disguised their total lack of football knowledge, as well as their utter contempt for those watching the game. Player’s names were frequently misread. The hosts tried to call Harry Kewell, presumably since the retired Socceroos star was the only footballer they could be bothered to name. Aaron Chen bizarrely declared himself possessed by the spirit of football.

By failing to predict just how disrespectful many in the football community would find their coverage, the ABC producers have proven themselves to be stunningly out of touch with millions of Australians. More annoyingly, it looks like we won’t be seeing Socceroos games or the A-League on free to air TV in the near future.

Jayce Carrano argues against:

“What would be the reaction if the ABC headed up the next federal election coverage with a panel of comedians?” asks Tracey Holmes at the beginning of her article attacking ABC2’s coverage.

I don’t know, Tracey, political satire is as popular as it’s ever been, so it would probably be a great success. Why should federal politics be beyond the reach of satire? Why should football?

Yes, yes, I understand that it was during the coverage! I hear you! That was your space to enjoy the football. I get it! You want a place exclusive to those who centre their happiness on pass completion, offside rulings, and nutmeg compilations.

And I’m not judging here; that doesn’t seem any worse than centring your happiness on whether you’ve got the latest Nike x Supreme sneakers, when you last pinged, or if you managed to root someone cute recently. But why is it okay to poke fun at those lifestyles and not football? Football fans certainly don’t mind ribbing other sports; just ask the hand-egg supporters over in the NFL. It seems a bit rich to dish it out if you’re not going to take it.

Then there were the people complaining that commercial channels would have done a better job. If you would have preferred half an hour of ads, let me direct you to the amazing world of home shopping channels. If you were upset that there wasn’t enough analysis, take a look at the internet where there were dozens of media pundits with hundreds of predictions and breakdowns. If you think it was a lost opportunity to raise the profile of the sport in Australia, I point you to the thousands upon thousands of views, comments, and articles that have arisen from this little fiasco (of which this piece is just the latest to add to the flaming rubbish pile).

Following football is fantastic. It offers exhilarating, edge-of-the-seat tension that brings people together from across the social spectrum. Football deserves its place in Australian culture. But it doesn’t deserve to be untouchable.

After the coverage, the now-infamous comedians hosting the ABC’s coverage, particularly USyd student Aaron Chen, copped the inevitable flak. One punter messaged him to say, “You honestly make me want to rip my dick off” and got the response: “Dude please don’t do that. I’m so sorry I won’t do it again but please don’t do that. Please man”.

It seems football fans could learn a thing or two from comedians when it comes to taking a joke.

After all, isn’t watching sport supposed to teach resilience in the face of adversity? Let’s see more of that and less rolling around on the ground acting like you’ve been heinously injured…