It’s a brave politician in Australia who will admit to not giving a damn about sport. If you want to get elected here you have to follow a football team and a cricket team and rave on about our sporting prowess.
As a nation we are obsessed with sporting success. However, the embarrassing truth is that while the rest of the world had to cope with wars and famine and therefore had no time to play games, we in Australia did very well. Let’s take tennis, for example. We did fine when our only opposition came from the U.S, the U.K, and France and Italy. As soon as the former Soviet Union and the Yugoslavs came up for air, our supremacy dissipated.
The tennis champions of today have unpronounceable names. The Brits can’t win anything now that they have competition. When nations are at war and have to struggle to survive they really don’t have time for tennis.
Australia, on the other hand, has been a lucky country. It has done its fighting overseas. It’s also blessed with a climate that is conducive to tennis and to swimming, while other nations can’t develop those skills.
If a country encourages sport to the extent that Australia does, even to the detriment of cultural and academic pursuits, it should not be surprising that its youth will want to become sporting icons rather than recipients of the Nobel Prize for Medicine.
How can somebody who can hit a ball with a bat become a legend? Oh dear, have I been disrespectful to Sir Donald Bradman? How can somebody who jumps hurdles very very fast be considered an idol? How can somebody who has the morals of a virus , but who can bowl in cricket, be regarded as a superhero and a fine example for our youth to emulate? Not to mention Pharlap who was a fast running horse!
What really amuses me in all this is that on the eve of a finals football match, when two politicians from opposing sides are having a debate on TV they have to declare which team they are supporting. I only know of one politician in the past who admitted he’s not into sport and that’s Bob Carr. He was something special.
The only analogy that I can think of to Australia’s obsession with sport is America’s notion that to get into politics you have to be god-fearing. An American who declares he is not into religion will never get elected. Just as an Australian political candidate has to be photographed at a sports match, an American candidate will have to be photographed attending church. In fact, it doesn’t matter which church. Better a raving fanatical Muslim than an atheist, I suspect. As a point of interest, an Australian politician can be elected if he declares himself to be an atheist as Prime Minister Bob Hawke was. So that’s where we differ from the U.S.
When I see the football fans, decorated in their warpaint, and ready to fight supporters of the other team, it’s difficult to believe that they are doing this because of a game, but then I console myself with the views of the Roman emperors that one must provide amusement for the masses. If they weren’t doing this, then who knows what mischief would arise?
As one prominent Australian economist asked me at the age of six after being forced to play soccer:- “Why don’t they give everyone a ball?”