Image for “Respectful” Disrespect at the Winter Olympics and throughout Australia

IF MAXIM SHABALIN and Oksana Domnina’s ice skating had a redeeming feature to it, it was that it brought an important social issue to the forefront of a national discussion. That is, the theft and disrespectful of Aboriginal culture.

Watching the performance live was surreal. The mood of all right thinking Australians was summed well by the Channel Nine commentator and former ice skater Belinda Noonan, who stated that she was “horrified” by the performance, which really needs to be seen to be believed.

Noonan, to her credit, took a strong stance that Aboriginal culture should be respected when she said on air ““If they were really inspired by Australian Aboriginal culture, they should have been able to translate that in choreography and express it on the ice, It would have been an enormous service to ice dancing, ice skating and the Australian Aboriginal population. However, as it stands now, I think it has all gone horribly wrong.”

Stephen Page, artistic director of the Bangarra Dance Company told the AFP news service that there were no traditional movements in the routine, the music sounded more like it came from India or Africa than Aboriginal Australia and the body paint looked like “a three-year-old child had drawn it on” and “It looks more like they were trying to emulate the token savage cave man.”

Shabalin has said that the performance was done to “honour” Aboriginal culture. However, Shabalin and Dominia and their team have been disingenuous about the performance from the start. They have claimed at different times the performance was an Australian Aboriginal dance and at other times a “non-descript” aboriginal dance. They also wanted to “honour” a culture but it seems as if they have never spoken to an Aboriginal in Australia about the performance, with their research being done on the internet. The pair’s coach gave a clue to their mindset when she declared that the dance has given them “free publicity.”

Undoubtedly the skaters were foolish and would be even more foolish to continue with the routine after the criticism they have received but their behavior shouldn’t be much of a surprise to Australians.

After all, the ice skaters’ thinking reflects Australian government policy which has much more of a deadly impact, a policy that can be summed up as “respectful” disrespect. The Australian government and its ministers claim a deep respect for Aboriginal culture and Aboriginal heritage, but since being elected have continued to maintain the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act to enforce the racist “intervention” into Aboriginal communities. Kevin Rudd “respects’ Aboriginal culture, yet wishes to continue celebrating the 26th of January as a national holiday, the day which saw the beginning of the genocide of Aboriginal people.

In Hobart last year at a protest I attended this hypocrisy was summed up well. Rudd was chairing a community consultation that opened with a traditional acknowledgement of Aboriginal land and culture; Rudd paid his respects to the local Aboriginal community. The majority of the local Aborigines however, were outside on the street protesting and in some cases being arrested trying to protest his racist policies.

With such utter hypocrisy being the basis for Australian government policy, is it any wonder that such policies would also find reflection in the sporting world? It’s about time the standards applied to the Russian ice skaters are also applied to the Australian government.