Philip Huggins, assistant bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne, has called on the AFL leadership not to have games on Good Friday after this year.
AFL teams North Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs will make history in the inaugural holiday clash at Etihad Stadium from 4.20pm on Friday.
“It is not fair – it requires faithful fans, players, club staff and media to make choices that are not fair on them,” said Huggins, a passionate Geelong supporter.
“People who love footy are really conflicted – that’s what unfair – and it’s unnecessary because you’ve got games going from Maundy Thursday (the day before Good Friday) to late on Easter Monday.”
In NSW, Rugby League has been played on Good Friday for years but does not attract the crowds that AFL draws in Melbourne, where everyone generally supports a team.
Dale Stephenson, senior minister of Crossway Baptist Church in Melbourne, agreed the AFL should show respect for Good Friday, the “most sacred day” for members of the Christian community, which is the major community in Australia according to the census.
“I would prefer AFL not to be played on Good Friday, which is the most sacred day when Christ was sacrificed on the cross for the sins of humanity.” – Dale Stephenson
“There are not many sacred days in our calendar where we would like society to stop,” Stephenson said.
“Christmas Day is one and we would not want the Boxing Day Test to become the Christmas Day Test because we think celebrating of birth of Jesus Christ is a significant day.
“And even though this is a much-anticipated sporting event, I would prefer AFL not to be played on Good Friday, which is the most sacred day when Christ was sacrificed on the cross for the sins of humanity.”
The AFL Commission in 2014 gave approval for a match to be played on Good Friday but until now a fixture has not been scheduled for the day.
Huggins said he had organised and delivered a petition against the Good Friday fixture from “lots of church people.”
“Some of the clubs and officials and media have been desperately wanting to do this for years because of the market opportunity,” Huggins told Eternity.
“They’ve ended up putting it on basically because power of the market – it’s another space that they can put more product into.
“Here they’ve soft edged it with the link to Royal Children’s Hospital Appeal so it looks like a worthy thing.”
Huggins said he had been campaigning against Good Friday AFL for years, but had been prompted to make another public statement by two events last weekend.
“At church last Sunday one of the laypeople said he works for one of the clubs playing on Friday, and said he feels terrible about it. He told the club, ‘It’s not the right thing to do, they shouldn’t be putting me in this position.”
The other event that struck him was the massacre of Coptic Christians in Egypt on Palm Sunday.
“People are dying for this faith,” he said.
“I spent some time this week with a Pakistani girl whose legs were blown off by a terrorist bomb in her church in Peshawar, Pakistan. She was having prosthetic legs fitted at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne.
“This girl is so glad and grateful to be here in a place of faith and in a country that has true holy days of Christian faith, so we’re custodians of this and just shoving more AFL product into the market is not really good.”
Huggins said people from various churches had asked him if he was going to organise a protest outside the game, but he said, “I thought we would be better off worshipping the Lord and not getting ourselves further distracted.”