When pettiness gets out of hand

By ERWIN CHLANDA

 

Given the lavish provision of recreational facilities in The Alice, mostly publicly funded, you’d be inclined to think that playing sport is a great way to build a harmonious, happy and healthy community.

You’d be wrong – in at least one case: the Alice Springs Tennis Association.

It has about 200 members, mostly white and middle class.

Amongst them is a part-Aboriginal 12-year-old boy, Zoltan Ross (pictured), who wants to be a tennis star. He’s happy to train hard and has some runs on the board in interstate competitions. But that’s no thanks to the club nor, apparently, to its manager and coach, Craig Gallagher, who is said to have told Zoltan, in front of other children, that his “feet stink” and refuses to give him singles coaching.

Mr Gallagher’s partner Pat, allegedly said to Zoltan, also in front of other children: “You smell.”  This prompted the boy, described as shy by his parents, to withdraw from all junior club activities. So says Zoltan’s mother, Angela Ross, a school teacher and a member of a prominent local Aboriginal family.

Whether she is right or not we can’t say: we put her litany of complaints – all 2446 words of it – to the association’s president, Tony Jennison, in an email. He did not respond. We rang him two weeks later to enquire whether he would like to exercise the right of reply we had offered him and he said: “No comment.”

And so we’re left to wonder whether that friendly outback town of Alice Springs has lost the basic skills of stopping a minor, petty issue from blowing up into a major brawl involving a string of government instrumentalities. So far the Department of Justice, the anti-discrimination authorities, the Alice Springs Town Council, which owns the Traeger Park complex, and local politicians have been drawn into the fight.

Ms Ross, the only Aboriginal member of the committee, says she will now seek a resolution through grievance provisions in the constitution, and possibly a special general meeting.

Why has she not done so before?

“We now realize this is something we need to do, and we’ll be doing it,” says her husband, Zoltan Ganya, who played for Australia as a junior in Hawaii and mainland USA.

Ms Ross says she was not informed about a meeting during which allegations against her husband were discussed. She and her husband had not been given a right of reply.

As the association will not put its side of the story we can only report what Ms Ross and Mr Ganya are saying. This is a small part of it:–

• Mr Ganya began to coach his son, nicknamed Zolly, but this has now been stopped by the association, allowing only the official coach to provide training to anyone on the courts. Fathers, for example, can’t.

• Mr Ganya was stopped from entering a side including Zolly into the Thursday Night Competition.

• An African coach, living in the tennis centre’s house, who frequently gave free lessons to kids, was dismissed – “to the surprise of many” – when Mr Gallagher was employed.

• A bid by Mr Ganya to introduce students, some Aboriginal and underprivileged, from the Centralian Middle school into the association’s program was knocked on the head by Mr Gallagher. He said about one of students that she did not fit into the association’s junior coaching group.

• Mr Ganya was – falsely – accused of giving alcohol to minors and leaving an abusive message on Mr Gallagher’s answering machine.

• Mr Gallagher engaged in petty conduct such as locking Mr Ganya out of the complex or out out of the toilets; charging non-members rates, $15 an hour, for lights.

Says Mr Ganya: “After a social hit with my workmates, white, Asian and Aboriginal, a few of us were having a beer only for Craig to walk in and ask for our group to leave early because ‘they might all think it’s alright to come in here’.

“The two Indigenous friends weren’t drinking; both were 19 and 22 respectively and play for Territory Thunder. As a matter of fact they were both playing tennis at the time he walked in and both were not drinking – nor do they drink.”

Mr Gallagher is now due to leave, says Ms Ross, and a former manager, Matt Roberts, will be retuning to Alice Springs. This, she says, may resolve the conflict.

 

LETTER TO THE EDITOR

Sir – I cannot understand why this young man has been subjected to the shame and unacceptable behaviour of the coach. Great to hear Matt Roberts is returning – he will sort out the association and continue of the fantastic work he did years ago. Zoltan stay strong and ignore the ignorant people.

Trevor Read, Darwin

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