• Is There Something Wrong With Aussie Sport?

    Is There Something Wrong with Aussie Sport?

    The news that Australian Olympians returning from Rio have been given a hard time by the Australian media and public for the alleged paucity of their medal haul will, sadly, have come as little surprise to Kiwi sports fans.  It is further evidence that there may be something wrong with the Aussie attitude to sport.

    Sporting success for our trans-Tasman cousins is no longer, it seems, something to be welcomed and celebrated when it comes along, but is rather to be expected, even demanded.  And when the demand isn’t met, those who were the best the country could put forward, but whose best wasn’t quite good enough to top the world, are pilloried as failures.

    This is the latest addition to what is becoming a distressingly substantial catalogue of apparent Aussie failures to understand what sport, and being a “good sport”, is all about.  Kiwis will not need reminding of the infamous underarm bowling episode – the classic instance of winning at all costs – but there are more recent instances that also give cause for criticism and concern.

    It is, after all, Australian cricketers who have made an art-form out of “sledging” – perhaps they even invented the term as well as the practice?  The abusing of opponents in the course of a sporting contest in order to unsettle them has been so much normalised by Aussie cricketers that it is now regarded as an essential and justifiable weapon in their armoury – to the extent that skill in sledging is now regarded as a badge of distinction and a distinctive feature of Australian determination to achieve success by any means, whether fair or foul. It is surely a practice that has no place on a sports field.

    Its close association with Australian sport was exemplified in the last Cricket World Cup when New Zealand’s failure, or rather refusal, to follow the practice was regarded as a deliberate ploy and underhand tactic to unsettle their Aussie opponents – the Kiwis, we were told, were “too nice”.

    Perhaps the most extreme example of the tactic came, however, in a different sport, though the perpetrator was another Australian.  The promising young Aussie tennis player, Nick Kyrgios, perhaps misled by his elders, has already earned a reputation for bad behaviour; his charge sheet – for smashing rackets and abusing umpires – is already shamefully long, but he excelled himself on an infamous occasion by going out of his way to divulge to his opponent as they crossed at the net a piece of personal and private information about his opponent’s girlfriend.

    The aim could not have been other than to gain an advantage by upsetting his opponent.  What sort of sport or sporting ethic would foster or sanction such behaviour or believe for a moment that winning was more important than treating people decently?  The worrying aspect for Australian sport is that such behaviour does not arise in a vacuum; it reflects standards that have been set by others and that encapsulate the belief that sporting success trumps any other consideration and is earned by those who are “tough” or “hard-headed” or “dinkum Aussie” enough to forsake ordinary norms of decent behaviour.

    Rugby, inherently a game which rewards a “take no prisoners” approach, is refreshingly free from such attitudes – give or take the odd sneak attack on a Richie McCaw or Dan Carter.   We hear occasionally, especially from the Northern hemisphere, that New Zealand’s success in rugby is attributable to our “physicality” and that we can be matched or beaten only by teams that show a similar imperviousness to the risk of injury or disregard for the rules.  Fortunately, we are able, in most minds at least, to show that it is our skill and strategic understanding of the game, and not any greater willingness to break the rules, that underpins our success.

    We should encourage our Aussie cousins, with whom we share so many sporting and other ties, to re-think their attitudes to sport.  Yes, we – and they – are right to feel pride in our sporting achievements, but they are all the more meritorious if combined with a truly sporting attitude.  Their value is diminished if a price is paid for them in terms of a departure from the widely recognised principles of fair play.

    And when it comes to measuring success or failure, we should remember that the performances of our sports people are theirs alone and not expressions of some kind of national superiority.  If we select our best performers and they do their best, but do not win, they may disappoint themselves, but they have not let us down.  A sports competition is exactly that; it involves competitors and we have no jurisdiction over how good other competitors may be.  We can expect no more of ours than that they do their best, in their own interests and not ours.  To be good enough to represent their country is success enough.

    No one doubts that Australians have a wonderful record of sporting success.  But being Australian does not exempt sports people from the possibility of defeat or the demands of good sportsmanship.  In both countries, we should be quick to say to our Olympians and to all those good enough to be selected to represent us in international competition, “Well done!”

    Bryan Gould

    25 August 2016

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

1 Comment

  1. Patricia says: August 26, 2016 at 12:12 pmReply

    BREAKING NEWS: The Wallabies rugby practice was delayed nearly two hours
    today after a player reported finding an unknown white powdery substance on
    the practice field. Coach Michael Cheika immediately suspended practice
    while police were called to investigate. After a complete analysis, experts
    determined that the white substance unknown to players was the TRY LINE.
    Practice resumed after special agents decided the team was unlikely to
    encounter the substance.