It was a dirty little banner.

A hobbytex horror show, scrawled on a crappy canvas in a font that screamed "should have paid attention in graphics class". 

It was hid up the back of the grandstand like a toxic surprise. The sort of place cowards like to hide, in the shadows.

It screamed religious intolerance. It stunk of political opportunism. It masqueraded as innocuous but in truth was a dirty bomb of bigotry.

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Last night the fascists came to the footy.

Bearing the mark of the United Patriots Front (UPF) the banner was more than just the work of an angry loner. It was a deliberate and calculated political act by a group of extremists.

That they're a bunch of proto fascist Aussie (mostly) blokes makes that hard for people to reconcile.

Put it this way - how would you have reacted if  Hizb ut-Tahir had unfurled a political banner at the game?

Same, same but different.

No doubt emboldened by the incessant intolerance and bullying of Adam Goodes last year and the AFL's reluctance and inability to address it, the UPF saw an opportunity to exploit a nasty stream of fear and loathing that has crept into the game and the wider community.

Racism and bigotry are viruses that seek out willing hosts and infect them. In recent times the AFL has left itself vulnerable. 

This is the result.

How the game responds to this latest act of intolerance will say a lot about where it sees itself as a community leader.

One thing that it must do is stand up for the values of tolerance and inclusion that underpin everything we cherish about sport and particularly AFL football.

The magic of sport and its ability to endure and allure across culture, religion and circumstance can be found in the one unifying principle that is at the very essence of the games we play.

Sport, when it is true to itself, is governed by rules that are not bound by race, religion,class or sexuality. At its finest it is a safe haven from the types of prejudice that pollute our world. It's one place where the content of your character and your ability can be celebrated above all else.

And where we can recognise in each other the   universal bond of our common humanity.

It's something too precious to be hijacked by haters.

Particularly Australian Football, which has a long tradition of egalitarianism.

Where the banker and the bread maker, the seamstress and the socialite, the preacher and the teacher could gather and share a passion for the game in spirit of mutual respect.

We shouldn't ban the UPF and their ilk from expressing their views. You can't legislate to end ignorance or change what is in some people's hearts. Best that it is seen and challenged as unpalatable as it is.

That said, it has no place in sport. 

When you attend an AFL game you are joining a community which is built on the principles of all great sport. 

An open embrace for one and all who come to play and watch in the true spirit of the game. 

It's far from perfect and it's faced set backs, but it's an ideal worth fighting for. 

And it's on all of us to stand up and be counted. 

 

 

 

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