What we don’t want

Spot on, Tony Burns. 1 Public funding of sport is plenty high enough already. The front page 2 should say it all. Half the games still to go, and we’ve started the autopsy without the coroner. And right below a headline about corruption in racing, to the surprise of no one, surely. Has money commonly enhanced the social value of sport? Come to that, where has it ennobled us?

Stop medalling

So, the Aussie commentariat is obsessing over medals? Well honestly, is anyone truly surprised? We have this same discussion through letters, talkback and (more recently) social media, over every Olympics, every Commonwealth Games, and any international sports meet where any Australian participants or teams are either dominant or rising. We endure the nauseating jingoism screamed into microphones, the endless loop of compatriots crossing the line (at the front, of course), the collective drool over the state of the national psyche (colloquially, the comparative medal tally), the worship of heroes and the angst over also-rans, and then the Freudian analysis of our failures. Then we go back to life, until the next chance at tribal glory, when we do it all again.

Maybe one day, enough people will ask why. It’s too easy to scapegoat the popular media. Ultimately, in chasing ratings, they merely give us what they conclude we want. Governments, enslaved to 3-year electoral cycles and ubiquitous polls, do something similar. So in the end, its down to those on the lounge chair side of the screen. Do we want to be part of a nation that spends billions developing elite athletes, and pays them more than Prime Ministers? The tone of the commentary suggests we do. And unless the medal tally picks up, here’s to another fortnight of Pavlovian frenzy.

But don’t despair, Australia. There’s always the next Commonwealth Games, where we’ll be the big kids in the sandpit again. Because sport is life, isn’t it.

Oh by the way, that last rumble from deep in the ground. Maybe it wasn’t a seismological event after all. I fancy it may have been Baron de Coubertin sighing.

Not the Olympics

Modern Olympic Movement pioneer Baron Pierre de Coubertin’s mind would be exercised by more than in-flight gender discrimination between athletes. Were he to return from the grave now, he’d be perplexed at best (dismayed at worst) to learn that handsomely remunerated professional sportspeople are even participating. Though not opposed to games athletes receiving some financial recompense for income lost whilst competing, his vision was premised on the capacity of athletic competition to promote understanding and harmony between cultures, when played between amateurs for whom competing itself was chief among rewards.

De Coubertin may scarcely recognise the 21st century’s take on the Olympic dream. When complex political machinations precede the selection of every host city and nation, when the hosts are judged and judge themselves by their own medal tally and the glamour of the opening ceremony, when the city’s poor are temporarily abolished to impress the tourists, when only the First World can dish up enough glitz to adorn the flat screens of the West, when nations like our’s invest billions scaling the heights of their jingoistic pride, when television networks jostle for the promised windfall, and when a place on the podium is worth the risk of performance-enhancing drugs …

When it’s come to all this, the Baron himself would likely fly economy.

Close to home

A light has just dawned for me, and it’s not a pretty sight. A bunch of teens brutalise a defenceless creature in a suburban park, and we’re unequivocally sickened and outraged, and rightly. But it’s happened in the middle of both a duck hunting and a jumps racing season. These “sports” elicit outrage too, but the interests are much more sectional. Why the difference?

Probably it’s because the former is far closer to home, in several senses. This didn’t occur out in the sticks or even in a provincial centre; it happened in inner suburban Melbourne. And if it actually took place among local neighbourhood kids in Moonee Ponds, it might just as well have happened with someone’s kids in Moorabbin, Montmorency or Moreland. Again, hunting and racing are pretty removed from all but a few in our community, but anyone can take a walk in a park. Lastly, organised activities are formally monitored by public authorities. So we can calmly leave it to the politicians, the RSPCA and the “sporting” fraternities to fight it out.

But there’s no difference, is there?

King Warnie

Whoever first dubbed Shane Warne “the King of Spin” spoke more than they knew. Move over, Will & Kate. No offence intended toward our esteemed constitutional monarchy, but we just don’t need to salivate over a royal wedding on the other side of the world when we now have one in the offing in our own backyard. The Warnie-Hurley caper has everything a royal gossip columnist could want.

A mansion for starters. Not Buck House, granted. But it looks similar enough. And the gaggle of journos out the front would pass for a horde of tourists at the changing of the guard. And then there’s the actress, the rich no-longer-married playboy who seems to get around, the dark luxury car, the golf club, the pursuing paparazzi contingent, the bookmakers’ punts on the nuptials, the wire-tapping. (They call it Twitter these days. I’m sure Charles and Camilla would have used it if it was around then. With 140 characters they’d just have left some bits out.) No corgis sighted yet, but I’m sure they’re out the back.

We’ve got it all. Forget the republic. Monarchy’s much more fun.

Relativity in sport

As erstwhile founding father of the Anti-Football League, Keith Dunstan (Opinion, 29/12) is well placed to comment on some of the excesses of Australian sporting fandom. However he, like Guy Thevenet (Letters, 29/12), might do well to recognise that the true thinking behind some of the more flowery commentary on Australia’s Ashes performance is far more varied than meets the eye.

To be sure there are some Australian sports fans – too many probably, for whom life itself is worth living, or not, according to the colour of the medal or which captain finally holds aloft the trophy. The sooner they get over it, the better for us all. But many who share their vocabulary do not share their myopic passions. We join in the collective banter, the language of the herd, not because the scoreboard ultimately matters but because our sense of mutual belonging matters profoundly.

Sport is one of the great levellers of our culture. There are probably few subjects that so quickly and painlessly make friends out of strangers, regardless of estate. Ignore the language. It’s just sport.

Jumping for blood

What kind of state leadership permits a racing body to continue a “sport” on the expectation of three cruel, senseless animal deaths per year? Probably the kind that’s driven more by electoral pragmatism than moral courage. Animal cruelty is a crime, eliciting stiff penalties on conviction and widespread condemnation. Our cars carry bumper stickers about pets being far more than Christmas presents, and responsible parents teach their children to protect and care for animals. Perhaps Messrs Brumby and Hulls could explain to those families why horses are different when entertainment and money are involved. I sure can’t.