Seven Shades of Shit

6 01 2014

I’m convinced being a tennis analyst is the easiest job in the world.

~ Andy Roddick

With the Ashes done and Cricket Australia more likely to sell the replica Waterford Crystal urn on the Sale of the Century gift shop than an ODI ticket, it’s time to swap the meat of the bat for the sweet spot on the racquet. For those of us lacking the means or motivation to make it to Melbourne Park, it means one thing: Seven’s Summer of Tennis.

I know. Still in recovery from the sphincter-busting introduction of James Brayshaw to Test cricket commentary and the very existence of ‘The Cricket Show’, we millions, we lazy bunch of remote hogs, are all bound for Bruceyville. Ian Healy’s on the rack, elongated and speaking with an American accent. Spin the lazy Susan of hosts and experts from Warnie, Tubs and Chappelli to Fitzy, Stubbs and Bradtke. All tied in a bow by Eddie Everywhere Johanna Griggs. If the following don’t have you thumping seven shades of shit through the swingball set by week two, you should consider supplements.

1. My Nemesis

A picture of the lesser of the Two Woodies should be on the cover of every ‘Introduction to Philosophy’ class in the land.* I don’t know why Todd Woodbridge annoys me so much. He’s a bit shit? Yes, that’s it. How shit? Put it this way: I look forward to Lleyton Hewitt getting knocked out early for the perspective he brings to the box. Hewitt’s impending retirement must keep My Nemesis™ awake at night. Bwahahahahahahahahaha.

* Read some Aristotle, philistines.

2. ‘Straya

Ranked 639 in the world? Got a wildcard after finishing runner-up at the Dandenong Invitational? No wuckers, mate! You might be playing on an outside court at Melbourne Park, but you are guaranteed to feature on Seven’s Summer of Tennis, especially if the laydeez are on Rod Laver Arena. I call it McAvaney’s Law: if there’s a ‘Strayan playin’ to the strains of ‘let’s go Aussie, let’s go!’ then that ‘Strayan will be playin’ on Seven (or 7Two). Then there is the not inconsiderable issue of The Fanatics. One chant in 15 years? World’s shittest supporter group/people too stupid to get to Oktoberfest by themselves. Case closed.

3. The ‘Laydeez’

If you remain in any doubt as to where Channel Seven ranks the WTA, check out the Yahoo!7 Sport tennis galleries. ‘Hottest WAGs of the Australian Open’ takes top spot, just edging out ‘The Sexiest Women’s Players of All Time’. No, ‘Terrible Tennis Dads’ doesn’t even the score. The flipside is the commentary team includes women who know what they’re talking about. Wait. Why is <INSERT LITTLE MALE AUSSIE BATTLER> on TV? Never mind, pet: there’s always Rachael Finch to interview <INSERT TEENAGE SOAP STAR> about their outfit. The Herald-Sun printed an Australian Open media release reports that Brad & Angie Jo could grace Melbourne Park with their presence this year. Prepare to shit yourselves twice & die, people.

4. Fango

The Australian Open has one of the best Twitter accounts going in world sport, IMHO. Informative, engaging and fun. The players tweet. The fans tweet. We all tweet. Where is Channel 7? Polling the 14 people who use Fango about Rachael Finch’s interview with <INSERT TEENAGE SOAP STAR> about their outfit.

5. The Curious Case of Henri Leconte

Leconte has delivered his special brand of semi-orgasmic Gallic cray to the commentary box since 2010. Bruce must have got the hump, because Henri now calls the ‘no way the French player wins even if he’s playing another cheese-eating surrender monkey’ match and pretty much disappears to the Siberia of mixed doubles after that.

6. The Megawall

Fuck off. Just fuck off already. A four-way split screen is for flies and forex traders, not tennis.

7. Cross promotions

Seven are the masters of this teeth-grinding blight on televised sport. Winners and Losers is not a doco about great tennis rivalries. My Kitchen Rules’ story arc will be sketched out. Every ad break will feature two promos for Today Tonightmare. Every return from an ad break will feature a ‘who shot Emily?’ banner ad. You will want to watch none of it and curse yourself for doing so in the dark weeks between tennis and football.

The draw takes place on 10 January, after which I will make up some bullshit about who will win. And remember, tennis lovers: it can always be worse. Tennis could be pay TV-only. (like the actually interesting upcoming cricket tour of South Africa). Worse: Channel 9 has the rights to the Tour Down Under. Quelle horreur.


On sport, and identity | Part II

3 01 2014

‘Everyone has at least two flags.’

Sunder Katwala, Director, British Future

11 June 2012

For many Australians, dual citizenship and ancestry provisions to European countries are a flag of convenience, a way of avoiding the tiresome business of obtaining visas on a three-week holiday or enjoying the privileges a global economy entails for the annual exodus of 18-27 year olds we now label ‘gap years’ (a very British term). It’s de rigueur for young Australians to see how far the old countries will strain and stretch to accommodate us – ‘is one of eight great-grandparents good enough for me to get a jammy European Union passport?’ – yet we love to argue the toss about the national identity of English cricketers. Replying to tweets from cricketing commentator David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd defending the foreign-born players wearing the Three Lions of England on their shirts, I was struck by the vociferous negativity the subject generates. What makes someone ‘English’ enough to wear the blue cap in our green and gold bucket-headed minds?

‘The English squad for The Ashes has 3 South Africans, a Zimbabwean, a Irishman and a Kiwi.’


‘… a changing-room comprising, say, six Englishmen, two West Indians, two South Africans and a New Zealander…’

Dennis Carnahan describes his song, ‘That’s In Englandas a poke at the Barmy Army over the English Cricket Board’s selection policies. The usual suspects – Pietersen, Trott, Prior – feature, presumably for squeezing the tits of a universal system which places the thirst for first above immigration policy. The problem with questioning the ‘Englishness’ of these white, South African-born players is not knowing where to stop. Carnahan went on to tell an Indian outlet that players should spend more time in the country they choose to represent. How much more? Ben Stokes spent the first 11 years of his life in New Zealand. Should he pull a Gordon Greenidge? Born and raised in Barbados, Greenidge’s family moved to England when he was a teenager. He played county cricket and was eligible for selection in England, but chose to return to the Caribbean, as detailed in this Wisden entry on its 1977 cricketer of the year. As Peter Wilby noted in this excellent piece from 2006, racism clearly plays a part in the declining popularity of cricket among young Britons of Afro-Caribbean and Asian descent, and pressured the-then Immigration Minister, Brendan O’Connor to approve Fawad Ahmed’s previously ‘groundless’ asylum seeker bid, yet Cricket Australia has no problem promoting Carnahan’s YouTube clip, which includes a line on the history of ‘non-English’ England players:

they’ve rolled out ‘Englishmen’ whose blood was not quite blue’

 over a montage of former cricketers including the late Basil D’Oliveira and Colin Cowdrey; Nasser Hussein; Gladstone Small; Devon Malcolm as well as Allan Lamb and Derek Pringle. Geraint Jones (no, not a rugby player from the Valleys but a PNG-born, Queensland-raised Ashes-winning wicketkeeper) took the song in his stride, tweeting, ‘at least i am mentioned with some greats for one thing!’; but when those greats include the mixed-race D’Oliviera (banned from playing first class cricket under South Africa’s apartheid regime, died in 2011) and not the most instantly recognisable ‘non-English’ England captain to most Australians (the late Tony Greig), it begs the question: is Greig off limits because he spent 30-odd years working for Kerry Packer in Australia? Geraint Jones might not have a problem with the song, but given Malcolm settled out of court over Wisden Cricket Monthly’s publication of Robert Henderson’s infamous 1995 essay, Is it in the Blood?, I wonder what his reaction would be to once again having his patriotism questioned – even ‘casually’, ‘playfully’, in a song by an Australian satirist, or in the Australian press? As this piece by Derek Pringle (another furriner in an England cap) for The Independent notes, why should he have to put up with it? Why do we care about cricketers who up stumps and question the depth of their identity with the country they live in? Instead of facing our own questions on sport and identity, we frame a faux ‘debate’ over ‘Englishness’. The UK gutter press does a sterling job of the ‘Plastic Brits’ nonsense already, as British Future’s Sunder Katwala elegantly sums up here. Everyone’s got at least two flags. How difficult is it to understand?

On sport, and identity | Part I

31 12 2013

“… culture isn’t something that people exist and work within, but something that they are inextricably part of and contribute to, for better or for worse … You are the culture, so are you going to be a force for good or bad? “

Philip Darbyshire

The Australian, 25 June 2013.

“Kimberley, a bit of PATRIOTISM please.”

I received this admonishment via Twitter direct message for my vocal support of the English cricket team during the Brisbane Test.

It’s a question posed fairly regularly whenever cricket is played. You’re Australian. How can you cheer for the other side?

The answer is twofold.

I was a cricketing child of the late 1970s and 1980s and I loved watching the West Indies play. I loved the relentless pace attack, a production line stretching from Andy Roberts, Michael Holding and Joel Garner through to Malcolm Marshall, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose. I loved the devastating panache of one I.V.A. Richards. I loved the immutability of the best opening partnership in Test cricket history: Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes. I had a ‘C’mon Aussie C’mon’ World Series Cricket beach towel, but I always put my hand up as ‘Big Bird’ in the daily matches played in the wide, grassy areas at Moby Dick Caravan Park, Pacific Palms. I loved the game, and the Windies captivated my soul.

I shared the love among individual players from all nations. Dennis Lillee, Richard Hadlee, Imran Khan, Sunil Gavaskar, David Gower. I loved the genuine contest between the cricketing nations of my youth. That seemed to disappear with the resurgence of Australian cricket under Allan Border. Border was the captain Australia needed after the DLP-style schisms of the Packer years and rebel tours of South Africa, but I just couldn’t warm to the ‘hard-edge’ mentality. As Border himself warned in 2005, Australia’s dominance became a negative. The brilliance of Lara disguised the Icarus-style plunge of cricket in the Caribbean. Post-apartheid South African sides including Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock under performed. New Zealand? I don’t remember anything about New Zealand cricket apart from Daniel Vettori and the change from brown to black one-day colours. For a shining hour, I cheered on Zimbabwe until the Mugabe regime’s fuckwittery made the country (never mind the cricket team) a horror show of hyper-inflation and internal displacement. I became more interested in the cricketing fault lines on the subcontinent, as the Pakistan of Wasim and Waqar gave way to the slumbering, lumbering Inzi and the crazily-gifted laziness of Shoaib Aktar. Sri Lanka, relatively new to Test cricket, delivered the doosra, Jayasuriya and Jayawardene; but the treatment of Murali Muralitharan in Australia was abject. A great of the game labelled a ‘chucker’ by our Prime Minister and viciously attacked by spectators who could not or would not entertain the thought that we were privileged to witness two very different masters of spin bowling. Wiser heads shook in disgust. Andrew Symonds was subjected to disgraceful racial vilification on tour in India. The Barmy Army booed Ricky Ponting in England. Bottles were thrown at Australian players on the pitch in Jamaica. For every event, there had to be a repulsive comeback. On field hostility and the sheer ugliness of cricketing crowds across the world were enabled by the dismissiveness of the cricket establishment. Perhaps naively, I never imagined I would witness it first hand, but I did in the summer of 2003/04. That’s when I fell completely away from Australian cricket. India’s batting line up was the first to rival the West Indian pacemen for a place in my heart. Sehwag, Laxman, Dravid and Tendulkar. They were individually astonishing, but the Sydney Test was something special. Sehwag swashed and buckled. Laxman’s lyrical big ton. Ganguly’s refusal to declare until day three. Dravid’s elegant, unbeaten 2nd innings They weren’t just raining on Steve Waugh’s parade, they were dancing in the Australian captain’s place, on his home ground, in the match he had dictated would be his final Test.

And then there was Sachin.

I saw Sachin Tendulkar at the crease for hours, plowing his way to his highest Test score. Not so much a pretty innings, but character writ on his bat. It should have been everything anyone who loved cricket could hope to see, regardless of your allegiance. Sitting near me on the boundary in the Noble Stand, a group of Australian men sprayed racial abuse at Tendulkar, to the obvious distress of Indian families around them and the oblivion of the titan at the crease. An Australian fielder turned his back on play, and laughed with the men. ‘Little Master? He’s a fucking little curry muncher!’ A pantomime shake of the head. Roars from the drunks. The player resumed his attention to the game, too late to hear me stand and spit venom at ‘my fellow countrymen’. I copped an earful, of course and gave it back until a friend dragged me away. The behaviour of the spectators was appalling, and the player joining in took the biscuit. I didn’t go on Day 5. There was no joy in my heart for what had become the Steve Waugh Show.

I am reminded regularly that other teams and other crowds behave just as poorly, if not worse. I don’t yearn for a time when cricket spectators the world over sipped cups of tea and clapped politely regardless of the team they support. It never existed. Everyone sledges, ‘patriotic’ fans stick it to the enemy, and we’ll just paper over the cracks by serving mid-strength hops-flavoured water and ban beer snakes and beach balls. ‘Everyone else does it,’ is the excuse of squabbling siblings in the back seat of a car. Grow up. I’m not English, or South African or Indian. I have the privilege of an Australian birthplace and passport, but I choose not to be part of a culture which does not strive to lead on and off the field. I’ll congratulate Australian players on their milestones even if boorish, sulky English players don’t. That’s my code. I’m not asking your permission, or for you to join this club of one. I’ve watched plenty of cricket, from the NSW Country Cup, T20, one-days and Test matches and not seen anything else remotely like it, but the memory of that January day a decade ago feels like a tattoo of an ex-boyfriend’s name. From reports and images of crowd behaviour in Bays M1-M10 at the MCG during the Boxing Day Test, it’s not getting better. Not yet.

PS: I’m crazy for the Southern Stars, but you know, they’re just ‘ladies … looking good as always‘.

The self-preservation society

4 06 2013

It’s a very difficult job and the only way to get through it is we all work together as a team.

And that means you do everything I say.

‘Charlie Croker’ (Michael Caine)

The Italian Job (1969)

The news came through early this morning (4th June): Mauro Santambrogio of Vini Fantini Selle-Italia had returned a positive sample for EPO on the first day of the 2013 Giro d’Italia. The former BMC-teammate of Cadel Evans was the second rider on the Italian squad to be busted for doping, with Danilo Di Luca caught for an out-of-competition test returned during the race. Santambrogio is reportedly in ‘disbelief’ about his positive result, and wants a B sample analysed. Yeh. Denial is a river in Africa.

I’m not surprised; I don’t think anyone is ‘surprised’ that Santambrogio returned a positive sample. I was surprised on stage 14 of the Giro, when the glowworm emerged from the gloom to take line honours ahead of the maglia rosa, Vincenzo Nibali. ‘Where were these legs when he worked for Cadel!?!’, I tweeted. The win, & 20-second time bonus took Santambrogio to fourth overall, just one second from the podium. That was dashed three days’ later, with the Italian cracking on the road to Ivrea, eventually finishing ninth on general classification.

I’m not surprised, but I am angry. That Santambrogio was close to a podium place is one thing. That Nibali gifted him a Grand Tour stage win is another. It’s not uncommon – the magnanimous race leader handing out a sweet to a compatriot – but in the context of these tweets, it’s sick:

             David Millar on Santambrogio         Nibali's gift

I feel more let down by those who say they are in the know and do nothing than the dills who dope. Don’t get me wrong: I think Santambrogio and Di Luca are scumbags from the planets Ignorant and Stupid. Ignorant for daring to piss on their home country’s Grand Tour and stupid for … everything? EPO? Hello? 1993 called and it wants its latest advance in doping back. The Tweetfosi rumour mill is whirling about Nibali himself. For me, the problem is beyond doping. It’s culture. If Vini Fantini were the talk of the peloton, and no one in the peloton called the WADA/UCI hotline to report their suspicions (as Alex Oates says, that’s why it exists), then nothing has changed. ‘The past is the past’ … ‘truth & reconciliation’ … ‘we’re needle-free’ … ‘WHAT? SOMEONE I JUST RODE A GRAND TOUR WITH HAS BEEN BUSTED? SHOCKED I TELL YOU I AM SHOCKED!’ Bullshit. You are bullshit artists and oxygen thieves. The omertà remains strong, so strong that the athlete wearing the leader’s jersey will deliver you his imprimatur, boost your palmares, your profile and offer you a possible place next to him on the podium. All of science could be focused on developing newer, better tests, but unless the brothers of the chemically enhanced members of the pro peloton avail themselves of the whistleblower mechanism afforded them, they defile the sport, and dishonour good people like these …

Santambrogio celebration

A great fortnight for people who aren’t racist

29 05 2013

Disclaimer: I am a privileged white female who loves football, football and cycling.

Last week, Captain Kangaroo – the late, great Johnny Warren – would have turned 70. I couldn’t help of thinking, ‘WWJD’ if he’d heard GWS Giants coach Kevin Sheedy’s comments about immigration officers recruiting fans for his cross-code football rivals, Western Sydney Wanderers.

The paltry crowd that gathered at Skoda Stadium to witness the Mother’s Day clash between Essendon and the Giants may frustrate Sheedy. My feelpinion is he’s embarrassed. A man used to being feted or hated for his every utterance in Melbourne has come to Sydney to start a new club and no one really cares what he says, unless he’s starting faux hostilities with the Swans or needling Melbourne clubs.

It was never going to be an easy task – something the Sydney Swans’ retiring President, Richard Colless, had warned Sheedy. For every Johnny Come Lately AFL convert like me, the Swans have, at its core, a group of supporters who have stuck with the club through the razzle-dazzle of the Edelsten days and been there financially when the club almost folded. The Swans also had the head start of being a relocated Melbourne club with a rich history it refers to at every opportunity; but enough about my team.

What I found jarring was the number of people who came out to support Sheedy. He’s not a racist. He’s done more for multiculturalism than anyone else. He’s not a racist. He said the wrong thing but people who are objecting are really blowing it out of proportion. Yep, Sheedy said the wrong thing. On the scale of wrong things, it was a lazy throwback to the ‘sheilas, wogs and poofters’ view of football (at least):

“That’s what happens when you channel a lot of people into a country and put them into Western Sydney.”

Seriously? This from a fella who thought he could drag in the leaguies by recruiting Israel Folau? When that didn’t work (embarrassingly), turns his attention from competing with rugby league as the game of the Western Suburbs to whining about the success of the Wanderers in building a club – yep, pretty much overnight. I don’t think anyone could have predicted just how big an impact Wanderers would make on the A-League. I have a hometown bias towards the Newcastle Jets. Having paid to see A-League games in Sydney, I don’t go anymore. The reason? The worst racism from a crowd I’ve ever witnessed from the cheap seats in any sport. I’ve heard Australian cricket fans call the greatest player I’ve ever had the privilege of watching an, ‘Indian takeaway delivery boy’ – much to the mirth of an Australian player fielding on the boundary. I stood up, full of drink, and abused them in some florid and foul language. I think I got more daggers from the Indian fans around me for swearing in front of their children.

Back to the A-League, and why I won’t go again. A Brisbane Roar player, Kosovar-Albanian international Besart (Mark) Berisha, was taunted (if that’s what you can call, ‘die in a gas chamber, Gypsy’) by a group of low-life Sydney FC ‘supporters’ whose pea-brains use the worst excesses of 1970s terrace action as their template. Oh, the irony of their club’s owner being a Jew who escaped the Holocaust. This time, I said nothing. I’m ashamed to say I was scared of them. A few weeks ago, I had it ‘splained to me that I didn’t understand Berisha’s ‘history’ with Sydney FC. Whatever. I was intimidated, and saddened by what I heard. I’m ashamed that I didn’t say anything, more ashamed that I stayed.

A few weeks ago, I tweeted this. The source was at the game and saw the incident first-hand. I had no reason to doubt his word. An AFL journalist retweeted me, and I am proud to say that the response was 95 per cent positive. Unfortunately and infuriatingly, I was accused of making things up. Interestingly, few of the people having a pop at me went for the person who said he saw the incident. Nothing came of it, unlike previous (and jaw-droppingly) continuing reports of racist abuse targeting North Melbourne’s Majak Daw. UPDATE: while Goodes may not have heard it, but as per the original tweets, it appears Swans staff did & the club reported it to the AFL. We await its response … or not.

The most infuriating thing is being seen as biased or overreacting if you object to racism. I’m biased because Goodes is ‘a protected species’. Well, that explains this, I guess. It is as ugly as the day when St Kilda’s Nicky Winmar pulled up his guernsey in front of a section of Collingwood supporters, defying their idiocy in a gesture which screamed, ‘yes, I am proud of the heart beating under my skin – and yet all you see is the colour of my skin.’ Fast forward to last Friday. Watching the Swans-Collingwood game on TV & live tweeting it, it was very evident late in the game that someone had said something that made Adam Goodes stop in his tracks. He didn’t ignore it. He stood tall, he stood proud, and he pointed out his abuser. That she was a 13 year-old girl makes the point that ‘casual racism’ breeds ‘overt racism’. This tweet sums it up for me.

Today, Adam Goodes woke up to the news that Collingwood President, Eddie McGuire, had tried to riff off last Friday’s incident in his morning radio show. Not funny, Ed. Not even remotely amusing. Harking back to ‘ye olde days’ when talking about King Kong subtly perpetuates the worst of the eugenics argument: that black people are somehow less evolved. As Richard Colless said today, the best thing that can be said is the whole thing is ‘bewildering’, particularly as McGuire had been widely praised for his fast and emphatic response on Friday night. The AFL is ‘dealing with McGuire under its racial vilification policy. Goodes’ message on Saturday – that the 13 year-old needed education, support and to take responsibility for her actions – was the mark of the man. Eddie McGuire would have been well served to take notes before his press conference.

I’m a privileged white woman. I don’t know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of racism, ‘casual’ or not. I’m over the ‘casual racism’ tag. It’s starting to sound like a cheap way out of for people who don’t think what they say or do is racist. Like Eddie McGuire or Kevin Sheedy. Is this racist if it’s preceded by this? Nah, totes casual. I saw this and felt uncomfortable, but I said nothing. It’s not enough. Twenty years’ ago, Nicky Winmar pointed to himself. Adam Goodes pointed at all of us and said enough. Watch the vision of AC Milan’s Kevin Prince Boateng walking off the pitch after he was racially abused by fans of fourth division team, Pro Patria, during a friendly. Then watch as his teammates follow in support. Hear Adam Goodes’ pain trivialised by a radio host. Read Harry O’Brien’s response – to HIS club President. You can be sickened and heartened in a few minutes and reminded that all of us can be better – at a football match, on social media, when our Dad’s 1960s worldview deserves public challenging, on a bus. We are all capable of following these simple words, and standing up – not for people, but with them.

Racism. It stops with me.

Kenrick Tucker, tactics and the Malvern Star Kid

14 05 2013

In 1982, my 5th class Social Studies assignment was on the Brisbane Commonwealth Games. We had to choose an Australian team member, write a story about their sport and glue newspaper clippings into a project book. ‘Kenrick Tucker’, Dad said. ‘All the other kids will choose swimmers. You should learn about track cycling’. I didn’t like getting help with my homework but I didn’t know who Kenrick Tucker was, so Dad watched the races with me and answered my questions. Why are they riding so high? Why do they swing up and down? Why aren’t they going fast from the start?

‘A kilo sprint isn’t just about going fast, Kimberley,’ he said. ‘It’s a game of chess on wheels’.

I liked playing chess with Dad. I would watch his face as my fingers hovered above the board, and wait for his pantomime expressions. ‘It’s not about getting to my side of the board fastest. Think about the next move, and the one after that,’ he said. ‘That’s how you win. Tactics’. If ‘kilo’ sprinting was like chess, Kenrick had to see the next move, and the one after that. He might be the fastest, but he would be knocked out without ‘tactics’. He’ll ride on the bank, or swing up and down the track, and then he’ll go, Dad said. ‘He’s smarter and faster than those other bastards. Wait.’ Then Kenrick went, and Dad was saying go, go, get in there, yelling at Kenrick Tucker like he did at Kingston Town. I jumped up and down on the lounge when he won and Dad didn’t even notice.

I don’t remember what I got for my assignment, but I thought about what Dad said about tactics. I had a yellow bike with gold glittery handlebars, a glitter stripe on the seat and spokey dokes, but I was getting too tall for it. My Dad had a big bike, a Malvern Star. It looked like the one Kenrick Tucker used, and my gangly legs could touch the pedals if one was at the top, or they were both even, and I didn’t move when Dad helped me up on to the hard ‘saddle’. Big bikes didn’t have long seats like mine for doubling someone behind you. If Mum was at work and we were going to my grandparents’ house after school, my Pop would meet us on Collier Street near the bike racks and double my sister on the flat handlebars, my brother and me riding behind. I could have had a double off ‘Old Arch’ or sometimes with Dad, but I was too scared to sit on the handlebars and keep my legs away from the front wheel. I was always cranky at how fast Old Arch would go, because it meant my sister would get a glass of lemonade and a scone from Nan before me.

Dad always put his bike in the garage after he knocked off from work, and walked over to the club for a drink. When we came home from Nan and Pop’s, we were supposed to put on our play clothes before we raced all of the other kids to the edge of the gully above the creek. I couldn’t go as fast as the kids with BMX bikes, even my brother. That’s when I remembered what Dad said. I wasn’t the fastest, but I had a plan. I put a milk crate next to Dad’s bike, moved the right pedal until it was at the top and held onto the edge of the garage while I swung my leg over. I tapped at the pedal and rolled down the driveway.

I hit the unsealed road on the thin tyres and turned left, towards the creek instead of riding up to the start line at the top of the hill. As the pedals ticked over by themselves, the boys started yelling at me to brake. They were riding after me and I knew I had to push the pedals back to make the bike stop or I was going over the edge and all the way down the gully. I looked down for the left pedal to come up and pushed my foot down. That’s when I learnt big bikes didn’t work like mine. The back of the bike started to slide on the dirt road and down we went. While the boys rode down on their BMX bikes I lay in the dirt, my left ankle caught on the pedal, its teeth clamped into me like one of Pop’s rabbit traps. I cried as they pulled the bike and me out of our own private dust storm, ankle, knee and elbow bleeding, school uniform and a sandal strap torn. The boys wheeled the bike home while I hobbled, crying, snotty with a big, googy egg bruise starting to rise on my temple. Mum came down the drive and yelled at me to get inside.

That was when I wished I had headed straight down the gully.

Great expectations

8 02 2013

Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence.

In other words, it is war minus the shooting.

 ~ George Orwell

I’ve written about doping in sport several times on this blog (here and here), mostly about procycling, but also what I consider the sporting crime of our times: State Plan 14:25 – the East German ‘diplomats in tracksuits’, approximately 10,000 athletes (including children) doped by the State with performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). The scale, the cruel consequences, the ‘win at all costs’ regime makes Lance Armstrong look like a kindergarten bully.

The release yesterday of the Australian Crime Commission’s Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport report – the result of a 12 month investigation, aptly code named Project Aperio (a Latin verb meaning ‘uncover’ or ‘open’), hasn’t surprised or shocked me. Not the scale of its findings, not the scope of the investigation, or that the coercive witness powers of the ACC were used – and I love sport. I love it because I can’t run out of sight on a dark night. I can swim a bit, and play tennis. That’s it. Oh, I can leg press 180 kilograms (hardly surprising; I have long, strong muscles attached to metre-long legs). I love people who are good – brilliant – at their jobs. If those jobs involve a football, a tennis racquet or swimming caps, all the better.

Orwell captures the essence of my take on the last few days in those few sentences above.

Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play: don’t give me piffle about Don Bradman, or golden ages forever tarnished by a 40-odd page report and a press conference. Sporting organisations and their products have traded on the notion of ‘fair play’ since the first Olympics. You don’t need to use elite athletes to test ‘undetectable’ drugs to make a mockery of an ideal. You can throw tacks on the road in front of cyclists racing aerodynamically down a mountain. You can use your elbows to cause your opponents to fall over in a distance race. You can punch someone below the belt. You can bowl a ball with the intention of hitting a batsmen, instead of the stumps, or roll a ball down the pitch against a valiant, disgusted foe. You can field a below par team to pick the cream of the next crop. You can employ wrestling techniques to slow play.

Serious sport is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness: You can grunt, dive for a penalty, taunt an opponent so tastelessly that they head butt you. You can threaten to rip a man’s heart out, rip his children’s hearts out, bite, gouge, brawl, engage in ultimately deadly rivalries, label yourself the greatest and another man an ‘Uncle Tom’, king hit a player for doing nothing more than marking your patch. You can smash racquets and abuse officials. You can, without proof, label someone who swims faster than and sets world records an ‘obvious’ drug cheat. You can call yourselves leaders in drug testing, and be revealed as a sham. You can lie to yourself and courts, fool millions of people and foully degrade and discredit anyone who dares stand up to you. You can choose to become part of a code of silence instead of speaking what you know to be the truth, or pursue a lead on a story. You can choose to be a cheerleader, ingratiate yourself with athletes, managers, clubs, administrators because you are so close to glory you can taste it.

Serious sport is bound up with a disregard of all rules: you can set a pathetic policy where your players, your product, aren’t subject to the laws that apply to every other citizen, where recreational drug users you catch out are rarely named or reported to police. You can surrender your place in an Olympic team to someone who hasn’t qualified, and watch them win a gold medal. You can handle a ball to score a goal instead of your feet, and win a place or a game in the ultimate exhibition of the joga bonito and blithely admit it in a post-match interview, or claim divine intervention. You can break salary caps and make dodgy deals. You can tweet garbage  ohberniebecause you are witless. You can bet on or against your own team or race, consort with criminals, paint a horse so it resembles another, poor performer. You can insist drivers race on unsafe tracks, and take action only when one life too many is lost.

Serious sport is bound up with sadistic pleasure in violence:  We, the stadium fillers, bay for ever-harder, brain-rattling tackles, celebrate the spilling of claret or a knockout in the boxing ring. Our games may not be violent, but they become sadistic. Rule changes push athletes to, and beyond, the limits of pain and endurance. We find intermediate stages of three-week races boring, and thrill when tour organisers announce brutal stages. Players who miss penalties never live down the ignominy. We take pleasure in hating rival teams, rival codes, rival sports, other countries. We bait rival fans and rely on other fixtures so we ‘win’ at the expense of another’s loss. We resort to racial abuse and defend those who practice it. We, the fans, have voices. We choose to silence ourselves and demand ever-greater performances. We buy pulp peddled by pundits who self-censor and allow the brave to be damned.

Sometimes, we bear witness to horror, and react with every ounce of human kindness and concern, sorrow at the loss of athletes dying young or stretchered off a ground with broken limbs or hearts which have ceased beating. We remember serious sports bear serious risks and consequences. We remember, and try to right wrongs. We can think, call, write, refuse to pay for memberships, support the outspoken against the omertà. We can accept losses with good grace, instead of crying with indignation that ‘we wuz robbed”. We can be better, act with integrity and ask the same in return.