Own Goaaaaaaal!

19

Yesterday in Australia we saw the media in full blown raw and uncut uncamouflaged action as they thought they were witnessing the successful culmination of another year’s hard work in unseating a female Prime Minister. And one reason for their campaign was out in the open, thanks to the magic of twitter.

From the moment the starter’s gun (in the unpredicted form of Wiley E. Crean) went off the journalists were in heaven. Finally they had an actual football match, er, sorry, leadership challenge, in the flesh, to report. It was as if one of those loony tunes evangelists, after years of predicting the end of the world at dates calculated by adding random numbers from hymn books, was suddenly told that a rather large asteroid was heading straight at Earth and would be hitting in a couple of hours.

Off they went, these gangs of football hooligans, sorry, journalists, must stop doing that, to roam parliament house looking for a spot of bovver, er, sorry, looking for some solid news to illuminate the story for the public.

And sure enough, these hard-headed, experienced journalists were soon coming up with real nuggets of KFC, sorry, gold. One bumped into a couple of Rudd supporters who said their man had the numbers. Others were reporting a scorecard produced by Sky which had Gillard narrowly ahead (was it 52-38, I forget) but with “9 undecided”, numbers which seemed to have been generated by a water diviner passing a stick over a list of caucus names.

Others, seeking, perhaps much more scientific psephology were quoting bookies’ odds. Again, I forget the exact figures, but they had Rudd as unbackable as Phar Lapp, and Gillard less likely to win than the Australian cricket team was to win the fourth test in India. The reporters were delighted to report that Kevin Rudd, finally arriving in parliament, was writing things down on a bit of paper. Who knew what, but, obviously, obviously, he was number-crunching, ticking off names as his supporters, water-boarding recalcitrants in the APH car park, advised him through a Protective Services style ear piece, that another former Gillard supporter, poor deluded fool, had come in from the cold.

Still others, uninterested in the boring facts and figures, and searching for human faces to put on the number-crunching faceless men, peered breathlessly down distant corridors where, Swiss clock-like, Stephen Smith was going in this door and out another, while Anthony Albanese moved in another, as different journos reported. Another had several Gillard supporters, probably ashen-faced, in the PM’s Berlin bunker, sorry, Office. Another had “twenty” Rudd supporters in with Kevin. Great heavens, were they holding the 9 undecideds hostage? Still, this “story” was rather spoilt by another intrepid reporter who managed to peep into Rudd’s office and realised that if there were 20 supporters in there they must be very small people indeed.

Anyway, after a lot of this kind of nonsense some journalists bleated, sorry, tweeted, that the Federal Police had, while, surprisingly perhaps, not having kettled the journos, had blocked off their access to the PM’s office and surrounds. And so the main fun was over.

Into the chamber where the next enthralling quarter of football, sorry, politics, was to be played. What were the team line-ups? Great heavens, the coaches were talking to the substitute players, now what? Wow, game on, great tactic from the West Abbott Albions, and totally unexpected, this’ll catch out the Red Devils, a non confidence motion. Wait, what, oh, has to be an SSO first, um, right, dunno much about football, but whatever works. Oh look, the Red Devil subs are playing with the Albion, it’s all over for Full Forward Gillard, she’s lost. What? A technicality means she hasn’t? Boo the umpire, shouldn’t be a woman, hey don’t know nothing about football. What? Game over? But they lost the no confidence … What? There wasn’t? Silly game.

Quick off to the change rooms, see the biffo of the second half.

What? No biffo? No contest? Red Devil wins again without even trying?

How to explain this to the public? Oh, easy, just like we’ve been explaining it last three years. The contest was real, Rudd had the numbers, Abbott wins, Gillard loses. Can just recycle all those earlier fantasy football columns, right? Right.

Who’s for the pub?

Odds on

5

In Orwell’s imaginary world of 1984 there was a government department whose role was to rewrite history in order to make it seem that the way things were in the present was the way they had always been. No need for that these days, the media, and therefore the public seem totally incapable of imagining that things have ever been different to the way they are today.

This week a kerfuffle arose over doping and match fixing in Australian sport. Attention quickly turned to gambling on sport (although it could also have looked at the huge sums of money now paid to sportsmen in order to keep them in a winning team and allow the club to reap the huge sums of money associated with sponsorship and merchandising).

Before you could say “Place your bets, madames et messieurs” the betting companies were swinging into action to try to head off any suggestion that gambling in sport might be curtailed in any way. Apparently if you criminalise gambling only criminals will run gambling, or am I getting confused? Perhaps it was – if you try to wrap gambling in plain packaging criminals will sell gift-wrapped gambling? No, I’m obviously confused. But indeed, the same self-serving rubbish was trotted out by gambling companies as we hear from gun dealers and tobacco companies.

The underlying theme in such debates is always the proposition that the way things are is the way they have always been. That the saturation of Australian sport and society generally by gambling has always been the case. That a casino in every capital city, then a second; that hundreds of thousands of poker machines in clubs; that games of football and cricket being interrupted by bookmaker’s ads and details of available odds; are all perfectly normal, and moreover, an essential part of our economy. But old folks like me, keepers of the corporate memory of the country, remember a time when none of that was the case. A time when effectively the only legal betting was on racetracks and “two-up on Anzac Day”. A time when the government-run TABs were introduced and illegal off-course gambling on horses clamped down on. A time, heaven help me, when there were no casinos and poker machines, and certainly no gambling on all aspects of cricket and football publicised during tv broadcasts. And even more amazing, young folks, society and the economy seemed to function perfectly well.

But it crept up on us gradually, here a casino, there a casino, and suddenly you are talking real money. And suddenly this big money talks, loudly. And suddenly this non-productive activity is essential to our economy. And suddenly it is not just non-productive but actually damaging large numbers of people with its carefully calculated addictive lure. Oh, and almost incidentally, damaging sport, once the pleasure of the public.

And new casinos are rushed through with the active help of state premiers, actively over-riding planning considerations. And the mildest attempt to reduce poker machine addiction is met with a massive political campaign from the clubs. And any suggestion that gambling on who wins a game, indeed who scores first, or last, or most, is met with outrage from big bookmakers, concerned that their licence to print money might be revoked.

Horton’s Law – whenever some activity is begun in order to see how it goes, as soon as it becomes profitable it will be found that it is impossible to stop doing it. A bit like taking up smoking which you can “stop any time, not addicted” until you actually try. Corollary – no matter how much an activity is damaging society it will continue while it is profitable.

You can bet on it.

Bad Sports

8

The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton” (Duke of Wellington)

After the recent horror in Newtown, Connecticut, all the usual suspects started trotting out their usual gun apologia, in America and here.

Even the good guys though, really don’t get it. Michael Bloomberg, for example “Nobody questions the Second Amendment right to bear arms”. But why not Michael, why not? Everything else in American society can be questioned but not rampant gun ownership? And here, Joe Hockey, also meaning well said he “couldn’t see why any member of the public, apart from farmers and sporting shooters, needed guns”. Quite right, but why should there be “sporting shooters” Joe (farmers are a different question, but I think also shouldn’t be an exception)?

People, like other animals, have always played games. The simpler kinds of athletics like running and jumping, and games involving some kind of ball or similar object, have been played in all human societies. As have frivolous ones like kite-flying, or spinning tops.

But there are other, more complex games, that develop to reflect, and reinforce, particular cultural or social factors in societies, and these come and go throughout history.

Some, many, are used (like the play of lion cubs or foxes) to train the youth of the society in martial pursuits. In Ancient Greece games like Javelin and Discus throwing, and wrestling; in Rome chariot racing, and gladiatorial contests; in Mediaeval England it was jousting and archery (Henry Eighth making this explicit in his law that the young had to practice archery); later, in many societies, it was guns used for target practice, horses doing dressage. Other games relate to people turning their working day occupation into a game or sport – for example wood-chopping, sailing and rowing, hunting, horse riding, motor racing.

Over the last few thousand years societies have grown out of some sports, left others behind as archaic, no longer relevant to warfare, have changed their ethical and moral attitudes to brutality toward other human beings, towards animals.

No longer do we see, nor expect to see, people leaping over bulls, chariot racing, gladiatorial mortal combat, jousting or bear-baiting. Then there are games that do continue, often underground, but that should have (for obvious reasons) gone totally by now – cock fighting, dog fighting, bullfights, hunting (all kinds), fishing and horse racing.

And then there are some new “sports” that should never have started but, having done so, should be stopped – wood chopping, motor racing, boxing, cage fighting, rodeos, and shooting.

Why? Well because sports don’t merely reflect the values and ethics of their time and place, they help to define them, reinforce them. In the Colosseum, watching thousands of rare animals slaughtered, or deciding on the life or death of a defeated gladiator by the whim of the crowd, were not merely reflections of a brutal attitude to life in Rome, but helped to maintain that attitude. No longer seeing defenceless bears torn to death by dogs on the streets of Elizabethan London must have helped to begin the movement towards a gentler society.

And so it is with our modern bad sports. One or two of them certainly seemed like a good idea at the time – other times, other mores – but that time is no longer with us. Take wood-chopping for example. Began as a way for the 7 foot tall, well-muscled, bronzed axemen of the bush, to see who was the fastest at chopping down 500 year-old-trees. Crowds cheered at agricultural shows, as these representatives of all that was magnificent about the Australia of the past chopped away to see who could cut through their log the fastest. Heroes, home-grown heroes. But these heroes had helped to destroy forests all over Australia, had removed magnificent old growth trees, had driven once abundant species like red cedar effectively to near extinction. In 2013, with forests everywhere lost or degraded, and with climate change coming at us like a timber lorry on a narrow road, the time for seeing wood chopping as a celebration of Australia should be long behind us.

Same with motor racing. One hundred years ago, there was a brave new world of fast cars, and brave drivers pushing boundaries, advancing technology. Hurtling around the track without a care in the world except the next chequered flag. The fastest drivers of our youth (such as Juan Fangio and Stirling Moss in my case) heroes in the sense that top footballers and cricketers and tennis players (ah, those were the days) were. But now? Kidding, right? How many cars in the world, a billion? Two billion? All burning petrol, spewing out CO2. We could do without high performance cars driving mindlessly round and round race tracks symbolically and actually wasting fuel for no good reason.

Similarly, with seven billion people on the planet, with wars and rumours of wars, terrorism, ethnic hatreds, violence on the streets of big cities, do we really want to keep glorifying the idea that two men (and even women these days) brutally bashing each other to the cheers and jeers of a crowd until one is so badly injured (even dead sometimes) they cannot go on, is a sport and an entertainment? And, on a planet where species are going extinct at a faster and faster rate, and where climate change and habitat loss are rapidly worsening, why the hell are we hunting and fishing the species that are left? And why are we still encouraging an ethos that animals are there for the mere purpose of entertainment, to be tortured and killed on a whim, in sports such as horse racing, rodeos, and bull fighting? It certainly reduces the level of empathy for the natural world so necessary to get us through the rest of this dangerous century, but, considering only self human interest, leads to less empathy for other humans.

Which brings me to shooting. Put all of the above together and tell me that in the world of 2013 we should be treating and glamourising guns as sporting equipment and not deadly weapons whose use should be reduced to a minimum. There is nothing sporting about shooting. We shouldn’t be treating as normal the idea of possessing and using guns which kill tens of thousands of people every year and millions of animals.

So we need some new games? How about some based on firefighting, tree planting, rescuing sea turtles and seabirds, collecting litter, replanting sand dunes, conservation farming, solar-powered vehicles, public health activities?

Good sports, eh?

Bigger, dearer, exclusiver

6

The other day there was Sebastian Coe (who I remember as that slim young magical runner, not the middle aged Lord Coe he has become) did one of those “Here come the Olympics” Press occasions, this time to announce 100 days to go until London launches into its third Olympics. This time of course it will be a vastly different event to those of 1908 (when the modern games had barely begun) and 1948 (when Britain used it, though in a very austere way, as a way of firmly leaving the war behind). And that difference over the course of just over 100 years I suppose sums up why my interest in the Olympic Games now verges on zero.

The sums of money now spent to hold an Olympic Games are obscene. Huge stadia are built, transport reorganised, media outlets pay for exclusive rights, gimcrackery souvenirs are produced in landfill quantities. Most facilities continue in use for a short time, then fall into disuse, then get demolished. Rarely do facilities built for the specific conditions of the games suit what an individual city may later need. The result of all that is that the major criterion used to evaluate Games “Bids” (and that is a whole other topic) are whether a city and country can afford them. No poor country could hold a modern games, and that in itself is a damning inditement of the loss of the “Olympic Spirit”. As is the tendency for winning cities (most notably China) to bulldoze poor housing and move beggars off the streets, so as not to detract from the glossiness.

And if poor countries can’t afford to hold the Games, athletes from poor countries can’t afford to hold Olympic medals. Once upon a time the Olympic mythology echoed “it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game” credo. Not any more. It has long been known that the number of medals a country wins (and the Olympics was supposed not to be a competition between countries but athletes) is directly proportional to how much money a country spends (so much so that Australian Olympic officials keep demanding more and more money otherwise our “medal count” will go down). These days sports training is a science, and equipment is also very important (the Australian bobsled team was complaining the other day they had a $5000 dollar sled and needed a $25,000 one to be competitive. I hate to think how much things like cycles and rowing boats cost). Athletes from the great majority of countries in the world have no chance of winning a medal, no matter how much natural talent a swimmer from, say, Guinea-Bissau might have.

Look if the Games were like those of 1908, where Australians with a bit of natural swimming or running talent paid their own way to Britain to chance their arm (and legs) against the best other amateurs who turned up, I would be happy to wave a little Australian flag and cheer them along. But Olympics 2012? I doubt I’ll bother watching.

What about you?

Since sliced bread

32

Was doing some cleaning up, sorting out, the Steptoesque room that is my Study, when the question arose as to whether to keep some old atlases. The answer was sort of yes, but only on the basis that I can’t bear to throw out books like that, and that I have always loved maps. But got me thinking about recent changes in the way we live now. If I want to check on something about a country, look at a map, I use the internet, not a big printed atlas. So what else has changed? Well, here is a list I put together quickly of things that no longer apply or happen that we once used to take for granted:

Wearing a wrist watch
Using lined paper
Using liquid ink
Using actual money
Using reference books
Having a newspaper delivered
Cutting unsliced bread
Postcards
Telegrams
Going to movies
Having phone plugged into wall
Shorthand
Having written address and birthday books
Following a sporting team that isn’t an “investment”
Being totally surprised by weather change
Use logarithms or slide rules
Having a piece of film developed
Speaking on phone to real person in a company
Lowering a stylus on to a music record
Visiting a bank in person

When climate change really starts to kick in, there are going to be a lot more things we can’t do that we once took for granted. But what else can you think of that we used to commonly do but do no longer? Come on, thinking caps on, elephant stamp for the mostest and bestest.

Addicted country

7

When I was a young fellow I took up smoking. Well, when I say took up smoking, I mean I had hidden a packet of cigarettes in the garage, and about once a fortnight, when home alone, I would bravely smoke one. Even after I had left home I would smoke no more than say a couple of times a week, especially at parties, and could say, quite truthfully, that I could stop any time, no worries. And then, somehow, don’t know how it happened, one day I was smoking 2 cigarettes a day, the next I was smoking two packs a day, sometimes opening a third, and it took me over twenty five years to kick the habit, leaving me with damaged lungs and, it turned out later, a damaged heart.

Conservatives are fond of invoking “slippery slopes” or “dominos” or “thin ends of wedges” – legalise marijuana and within a week or two 8 million children will be injecting heroin and smoking crack cocaine. Legalise gay marriage and within a matter of days civilisation as we know it will come to an end and people will be marrying their hamsters. Treat refugee children decently by bringing them out from behind razor wire and letting them lead moderately normal lives in the community and you are opening the floodgates to boatloads of children arriving and over-running the country. Pay the unemployed a level of dole that will prevent them and their children from starving to death and the whole population will give up work. Treat single mothers with compassion and every teenage girl in the country will become pregnant. Allow the North Vietnamese to reunite and run their own country and next you know they will be invading Cape York. Land Rights for a few traditional Aborigines and they will take over your backyards. Treat prisoners in jail like human beings and there won’t be a member of the population who isn’t going on a crime spree. Permit women to vote and before you can say “barefoot and pregnant” they will be running the country. Oh, sorry, that one was right.

Always such warnings follow the same script. They involve the rich and powerful trying to ensure (and usually succeeding) that the poor and disadvantaged will not be treated decently and will not get a bigger share of the cake, or indeed get any cake at all. They are often motivated by the haunting fear that someone, somewhere is having a good time. A determination to make sure that the lesser orders are kept under the thumb and under control. The mechanisms of falling dominos are so transparently false as to be laughable if they didn’t ruin people’s lives.

So here are people who purport to be the Cassandras of modern Australia, saving civilisation from the liberal barbarians within the gates, single-handedly holding back the tide, preventing Australia going to hell in a hand cart, holding the bridge, whichever metaphor you prefer for maintaining Australian society in exactly the state it was in during the 1950s before the rot of the 1960s spoiled it for true blue conservatives. While at the same time they are not just happy, but often actively involved in, setting in action processes, dominos on slippery slopes, based not on “morals” but on money, that are changing Australia to something that Robert Menzies could not have imagined in his worst nightmares.

The sale of alcohol, recognising its dangers to society, was once carefully controlled – early closing hours, alcohol only available in pubs and bottle shops, or with a meal in a licensed restaurant. And then the pressure came on – unfair to trade, uncivilised, could drink at home why not in other places – and before we had time to take a breath, see what was happening we were a society awash with alcohol. Bars and clubs stayed open all night, alcohol could be bought just about anywhere. Our city streets became no go zones as drunken teenagers fought and vomited, our pubs became places where there could be extreme violence, as did many homes. Well, obviously, you would think, we need to reduce alcohol consumption, return to the regime of, say, 40 years ago. Closing time for pubs 10pm, for alcohol sales in clubs maybe midnight, clubs closing at 2am, retail outlets cut back to pubs and bottleshops, sale of the alcopop type ready-mixed drinks deliberately marketed to teenagers banned. Problem solved. Except, it seems, we are now addicted not only to alcohol but to the unrestricted sale of alcohol. Any attempt to limit its availability is met with howls of outrage and political pressure from the liquor “industry”. To hell with society, the liquor industry is in the business of maintaining its now massive profits.

Gambling has been the same. Once heavily restricted, the slippery slope began virtually unnoticed. Couple of pokie machines in a club, just for fun, where’s the harm? Betting on sport as well as the horses? Well, why not? Gambling online? Of course, if we don’t other countries will. Betting on minor events during a cricket match – bit of a giggle. And so on. Suddenly we have a massive gambling habit, ruined lives, match fixing, which seems impossible to kick. Tens of thousands of poker machines fill clubs and pubs and can’t be reduced or removed or regulated in any way without reducing profits scream the club industry and its political representatives.

Go to war and take casualties and it is impossible to withdraw without disrespecting the sacrifice those casualties represent, so we stay longer and take more casualties, which makes the argument stronger for staying longer. Allow some water to be removed from the Murray-Darling for minor irrigation projects and suddenly farmers can’t do without it, and country towns have riots in the streets, and the river runs dry. Put some public money into private schools out of a mistaken idea of equity and next thing you are funding fundamentalist religious schools springing up like mushrooms and with a political voice which means you can’t stop funding them. Let private tourist operations into National Parks and bingo, in order to keep making a profit they have to expand with more and more access and features and facilities. Privatise telecommunications and public transport companies and they will decide who will get services and under what circumstances they will get them. Build a wood chip mill on the basis of using plantation timber, and when it runs out, switch to old growth because the mill is employing people and therefore cannot stop production. Build an industry based on coal and you can’t reduce greenhouse gas production.

In every case the money involved at the end of the slippery slope is addictive. The companies and communities become addicted to the money and there is no going back, no climbing back up the slope to undo the damage. The attempts to remove cigarette smoking from our society are instructive – battles every inch of the way as advertising was reduced, smoking areas closed, taxes increased, packaging and display controlled. Slowly trying to overcome the addiction of the community to the effects of cigarettes. Just like undoing an individual addiction.

If I could have a word with my teenage self I would tell him to ditch the cigarette packet, don’t get started. If conservatives are really so concerned to conserve a Menzies Dreamtime they should move from the top of the imaginary slippery slopes where they contemplate boat people and single mothers and drug addicts and the unemployed, and begin looking back up from the bottom of the real slippery slopes of alcohol abuse, forest loss, religious schools, dying rivers, gambling addiction, a warming planet, help us figure out how we can fight our way back up the slope to a more civilised Australia.

Cross-posted at ABC Unleashed.

Up there Cazaly

So, another football season has come and gone. Hooray. Oh I used to follow football, a bit, when I was younger, managed to get excited when “my” teams won, became briefly downhearted when they didn’t. Even went to a game or two of the WANFL (shows how old I am) in Perth as a teenager. But I began to lose interest when the codes became professional. When the WA and SA leagues were relegated to amateur hour and the AFL took over with artificial teams like the Eagles and Crows being created (back in the good old days, teams were actually based in a district, and were referred to accordingly, this creation of artificial teams with idiotic non-location based “names” was another turn-off). Similarly in Rugby League as the Broncos and Raiders emerged. I started to find I had little interest in who won these artificial contests and indeed could barely remember who had won the competitions the previous year.

But mainly I suppose the rise and rise of millionaire football players was the turn off. Always discussion during the season, and outside the season, about footballers behaving badly. Every week or two some footballer will not only get drunk out of his brain but emerge from a nightclub or pub at 5am to let the world, and the local police force, know that he is drunk out of his brain by committing various unacceptable acts. Sports commentators, presumably on the basis that it’s best not to throw the first stone never knowing whose glasshouse is in the way, generally don’t condemn the acts as such. Men are men after all, and a bit of violence is only to be expected – on and off the field. No the criticism is always along the lines that these people are “role models” for the young. Indeed I heard one commentator say in effect that the reason why footballers had bank accounts bigger than the budgets of some small countries was not because they played football but because they were being paid to be role models, so they weren’t earning their pay when they appeared, behaving badly, on CCTV cameras outside nightclubs.

Now it has never occurred to me to have a footballer as a role model, so I would join in the hysterical laughter from CEOs of football clubs (who pay millions, and juggle salary caps, for one reason, and one reason only – to win premierships) when that statement was made. But there is anyway a curiously restricted view of what a role model is. For sports commentators a role model is purely a negative thing – a footballer should avoid doing drugs, getting drunk in public, abusing women. Now I guess this is fine as far as it goes, but since there must be 21, 999,000 people, including me, who also don’t do those things, I am not sure exactly how a footballer not doing them either qualifies for role modelhood.

It is hard to imagine, conversely, any positive aspects of being a role model that a footballer can do. The only reason these guys are in the public eye is that they have an ability to catch and kick a football. In all other respects they are no different to the average guy in the pub on a Friday night, or walking down the street on a Monday morning. So why would you choose (unless you wanted to be a footballer) a footballer as a role model for, well, life I suppose? If I was advising young people as to who they could look to as role models for their future life I might advise them to consider nurses, teachers, police officers, scientists, soldiers, aged care workers, conservationists, farmers, emergency workers, public servants. If they used those people as role models I don’t think we would need to call on footballers to fill the, er, role.

Unless you wanted to be a footballer and earn far more money than any of those good people I have mentioned.

Tar baby

1

“New allegations of racism in sport”. One of those headlines that write themselves while subeditors have a day off (like “Offshore oil well massively leaks oil” or “Billionaire miners hate paying tax”). So rather than just have a day off myself, while the keyboard does the writing of the usual cliches, let’s have a look at the meaning behind the latest examples of racism in society, oops, sport. In particular let’s look at the reaction to the nastiness that those three former footballers spouted, rather than the nastiness itself.

The first thing to note, and I am sure you will be as surprised by this as I was, is that no racist remarks are apparently ever made by actual, you know, racists. And conversely, of course, it follows that no racist ever makes racist remarks. Confused? I am. Both groups, it seems, need to do some thinking about which club they belong to and if they find that the club they should be in is happy to accept them perhaps that isn’t a club they want to join. The friends of one of the footballers used the “I’m not racist, some of my best friends are blacks” routine on his behalf. The other one used, on his own behalf, apparently unable to find friends, the equally old “I’m not a racist I’m just an idiot”. And then, apparently willing to leave no cliche unturned, followed it with “It was just a joke”, and then the tried and true “If anyone was offended I apologise to them” routine, clearly offended at the idea that anyone could be offended by some good old fashioned remarks about cannibals, and blacks being invisible at night. It was good to hear these golden oldies could still raise some laughs on the night they were delivered. What a great audience. And then the third one was said to be “devastated” by, um, you know, what HE had said, and he wasn’t a racist either, had a “good record” it was said..

The sports journalists came out in support. These people of course are as likely to criticise their sportsmen mates as financial journalists are to criticise their banking mates. Sure enough, here was one of the boys saying that the after dinner speaker was not a racist, just an idiot. An idiot for saying these things? Well, no, an idiot, apparently, for not realising that in these days of “political correctness” you couldn’t get away with saying these things. I mean, these were just jokes, right, who could possibly object to that unless they were politically correct, and these days the pc crowd have taken over so sportsmen needed to sharpen up and not say racist things in public, or at least not where they might be recorded or heard by one of those dark-skinned people who might unaccountably take offense. And so it goes, smoothed over, explained away, nothing to see here, who could possibly think there was such a thing as racism in sport or anywhere else in Australian society. Until the next time.

Time we acknowledged that saying racist things is racism by racists. What else could it be? Why would you pile abuse, or ridicule, on players of various ethnic groups otherwise? Why would this stuff come pouring out of your mouth unless that’s the way you felt? Where else has it come from except your brain, your thoughts, your prejudices? And once it does pour out, like the oil spilling out into the Gulf, it kills what it touches. Racism in a speech or a team warm-up legitimises racism, makes the audience think it is ok for them to repeat similar sentiments, damages those it is aimed at just a little bit more. And society will continue to struggle to get out of a racist past like a pelican struggles to escape the clinging oil from the BP well. Or Brer Rabbit the tar baby.

If you hear racist remarks or “jokes”, don’t laugh, nervously, tell the speaker you don’t like it. Sports journalists need to do the same – wash the offender’s mouth out with detergent perhaps.

It’s not ok. It never was ok.

Aussie Aussie Aussie

Heard one of those figures the other day that make you wonder if, like Barnaby Joyce, some media outlet has mixed up “millions” and “billions” in a financial report. Easy to do, they are only separated by one key on the keyboard. But no, this one was sadly correct – South Africa has spent, and my keyboard almost melts as I type this figure, $5billion on hosting the World Cup. Five. Billion. Dollars. I mean, I know it’s not much if you are a banker, or a miner in Australia, but it is quite a lot for a country that has major social and financial problems. Big unemployment, slums, health concerns, crime, education needs. It surely doesn’t need saying, does it, that spending $5billion for a couple of weeks of sport is, just a little, out of proportion?

South Africa’s world cup is just the most extreme of the distorted spending priorities I have heard of recently. Last week there was, horrifyingly, a soccer World Cup bid from Australia – and governments were happily agreeing to massive spending on new stadiums around the country. Including in a city not a million (or billion) miles from Yass, where the Chief Minister happily signed up for several hundred million dollars expenditure on a new stadium. This is a city which has seen many school closures, problems in the hospitals, infrastructure needs, homeless numbers growing, mental health issues. Getting money out of the government for these needs gets a grim-faced response Scrooge (no, the other one) would feel was over the top, and a stern reminder that money doesn’t grow on trees and the poor and sick and old and young just have to tighten their belts.

This bizarre upside down sense of need and urgency is everywhere lately. Think of the massive subsidies for energy firms in the abortive ETS. The financial bail outs for banks in the first global financial crisis. The massive increase in spending on “Border Protection” in general and ASIO in particular. And yet – spending on health, education, aged care, mental health, childcare, all too hard, got to be postponed, dribbled out. And on the environment, come on now, got to be realistic, only those extreme greens would think spending money on the world we live in can’t wait for a decade or two. Or three. Reducing carbon dioxide production – what about the poor coal companies?

No, I don’t have an answer. Something seems to happen to politicians between saving the world before they get elected and saving giant corporations afterwards. Between concern for the poor in their election brochure and interest in sport while clutching tickets to a corporate box. Both sides of politics the same, so there’s no hope there – oppositions always think they will be in power by the time the opening ceremony needs to be presided over.

I guess we just keep niggling away, all of us. Please Sir, I want less, we might say to politicians eyeing off another sporting event.

Battler Sport

2

So John Coates thinks it is un-Australian not to increase funding by $100 million to "elite sports". Well, as John Howard would say, can't get much more Australian (greatest Australian who ever lived I think Mr Howard believed) than Donald Bradman, who famously practiced his cricket by batting with a cricket stump instead of a bat and bouncing the tennis ball off a corrugated iron water tank. At very little cost indeed. And Keith Miller, arguably a greater cricketer than Bradman, used to famously turn up to play cricket after a night on the town. Herb Elliot ran barefoot up sandhills. Marjorie Jackson trained, in second hand running shoes, on a country grass oval lit by car headlights . Footballers used to work all week as garbage collectors. And … well, you get the idea.

I think John Coates is so un-Australian that he doesn't understand Australians. He was going on about how the public would be disappointed if we didn't win everything, and, heaven forbid, slipped down the Olympic medal table to tenth, beaten, oh the shame, even by Britain. I don't reckon Australians really give a stuff about that, although whichever television network is showing the event, at enormous cost, will pretend that we do. And I don't think we are too impressed by the well known fact that you can, essentially, buy your medals – that the number of medals won is directly proportional to the money spent. Nor do I think we really like the idea that someone has won because they have had all the best equipment, best facilities, all the best coaching from overseas. Instead we like the idea of the battler from the bush who turns up with no running shoes and beats the rich kids. We really do, even now, in spite of all the propaganda from the Olympic Committee, support the underdogs. Remember the film Chariots of Fire? Change a few names, a few accents, and that could have been any rag tag bunch of Aussies turning up to take on the might of the Americans or East Germans. But that didn't mean we wanted to become Americans or East Germans, and that is where Mr Coates has got it wrong.

And then there are those other Ausssie battlers from the bush – the country hospitals with crumbling walls, the country schools ditto, the poor transport facilities, and, yes, indeed, the country sports ovals with no grass, and the pools with no water. There are so many things you could spend $100 million dollars a year on that didn't involve buying Olympic medals. Indeed, bearing in mind that this was just the EXTRA $100 million dollars that bitter tears were being shed over, how about we look at removing pretty much all the money from "elite sport" (a term itself an invention of people like Mr Coates in just the last few years, because elite sport of course must get elite money)?

Let's start a new program in the kind of country towns that produced Bradman and Jackson, let's try to develop elite hospitals, and elite schools, and elite railways, and elite ovals for local football clubs.

Say no to elite sport – elite sport is so un-Australian. Say hullo to battler sport.

You can't eat gold medals.

All David Horton's earlier writing is here.