Bad sports

This past weekend saw the culmination of two major sporting events – the Wimbledon Championships and the FIFA World Cup. Both tournaments featured some amazing matches and some outstanding results. They also were largely free of the player tantrums and unprofessional conduct that often besmirch these occasions. In fact, the number of red cards issued at Russia 2018 was the fewest for 40 years. At the risk of ruffling a few feathers, it feels such a shame that much of Australian professional sport appears to be out of step with this broader mood.

Australian sporting prowess is something of a national (if not economic) obsession. After every Olympics, there is a post mortem on how many (or few) gold medals Australia wins compared to the amount of tax payer money invested in elite athletes. (It is sometimes said that the job of Prime Minister competes for importance with that of captaining the Australian cricket team.)

Sadly, the desire to win at any cost, or to do whatever it takes to succeed, has had some serious and negative consequences in recent times. Whether it’s the Australian cricket team (playing the game their way – by “headbutting the line”…), certain Australian tennis players (competing only when and if it suits them), or the national basketball team (taking matters into their own hands….), there is an uncomfortable sense of entitlement among some sports professionals.

In the wake of the Test Match ball tampering incident, there was a considerable amount of Schadenfreude – as if the Australian cricket team had got their comeuppance. If the history of on-field sledging and the boorishness of their coach had not been enough to tarnish the reputation of the national side, “tampergate” was the final straw.

My own first exposure to a key part of Australian sporting culture was age 10. I had recently moved here from the UK, and the English cricket team had just won the Ashes, the first time for many years (a familiar pattern for their long-suffering supporters). Such was the impact of this apparent shock to the Australian psyche that at school, I was called a “Pommy bastard”. The irony is that up until that point, I had no interest in the Ashes – thereafter, I resolved to support England ….and any team playing Australia.

Next week: MoMA comes to Melbourne