Bishop Les Tomlinson, auxiliary bishop of Melbourne, has praised the Australian Football League for its tradition of resisting pressures to schedule games on Good Friday. Reacting to proposals to change the custom, he called on the sports organization to continue to preserve “local culture” and to accommodate the spiritual needs of people in Melbourne.
His comments, published in a statement from the Archdiocese of Melbourne, echo those of the Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart in holding that Good Friday is a public holiday because it is a sacred day for Christians.
“We are very proud of Melbourne’s sporting culture,” Bishop Tomlinson said. “Easter and the Easter holidays are a season of the spirit and the spiritual for Christians.”
“It’s not just about the three o’clock ceremony. It is about the day,” he explained. “From our awakening to the end of the day, it is the day Christians remember that Jesus Christ suffered and died for us so that we might know and enjoy the love of God for all eternity.”
According to the Archdiocese of Melbourne statement, the bishop said the AFL has shown courageous leadership by resisting previous pressures to schedule a game for Good Friday.
“I think any proposal to play games on Good Friday fails to properly consider the spiritual needs of people in our community,” he remarked. “Good Friday in Melbourne is part of our local culture, part of our local identity.”
“I urge the AFL to continue to show leadership in this matter; as it has done so effectively in other aspects of sporting culture,” Bishop Tomlinson said.
Greg Swann and Ian Robson, the respective chief executives of the Carlton and Hawthorn AFL teams, are both seeking permission to play on Good Friday, the Melbourne Herald Sun reports.
"We just see it as a great opportunity for the AFL to showcase a game. We are very mindful of the religious views that we need to address and we think we can overcome that," Swann said.
Robson said there are both practical considerations to work through and “very strongly held” religious views about the way Good Friday is “preserved and respected.”
The executives are trying to work with the Good Friday fundraising appeal of the Royal Children’s Hospital as part of their bid.
“It is a special day for a special charity and one that touches Victorians' hearts,” Robson commented, according to the Herald Sun. "If there is one thing that brings Victoria together on this day, it is the way Victorians pour their wallets and hearts out to ensure our most precious assets, our children, have access to world best practice in the facilities at the hospital, and for football to be able to play a part in that would be a fantastic thing."
The North Melbourne AFL team has also asked to host a Good Friday match in most of the past 12 sports seasons. While other Australian football groups have recently begun to schedule matches on Good Friday, the AFL has not.
The former AFL Commission chairman Ron Evans strongly opposed scheduling matches on Good Friday. It is believed his successor, Mike Fitzpatrick, is prepared to debate the question.