09 November 2006

Whatever happened to sportsmanship?

Folks, I must be the last guy to notice this, but Australian sportsmanship is amongst the worst I have ever seen.

A series of events has piled up over the past few days to lead me to this sad conclusion.

1. Brendan Fevola

Firstly, and this is best discussed in this excellent post by Greg, is the mental picture that one has of Carlton full-forward Brendan Fevola losing his mind in a pub in Galway, grabbing a barman who refused to serve him any more beer and putting him in a headlock.

Fevola was on the end-of-year junket known formally as the "International rules" series that is used to be played between a team of Irish amateur gaelic footballers and a team of professional Australian rules footballers from Australia.

Fevola then went on to play the race card in his defence - a somewhat bizarre and undignified rant about the Aboriginal members of the team copping a sledging everywhere they went. Never mind that this is no excuse for assault.

The AFL immediately sent him home. At least they did the right thing here. But more on the AFL later.

After doing a runner to Scandinavia, he has since returned to Ireland to be formally given an 'adult warning' by the Garda. But that's not the worst thing. At the end of the home-and-away season, Fevola was talked about as a future skipper of the Blues. Ain't gunna happen now, buddeye.

After Fevola calms down and pulls himself together, the resulting interview titled, 'Why my brain finally walked out the door,' should make ratings history for the network that manages to land it.

2. Willie Mason and rugby league

After Fevola's indiscretions, we then had rugby league forward Willie Mason punch someone on the rugby league field in a test match between Australia and Great Britain.

This was bad enough, however, Mason showed some initiative of sorts by claiming as a defence that this was a pre-emptive strike, and that had he not punched, he would have been punched. Fortunately, he was disciplined by whoever the tribunal/judiciary body is that deals with international rugby league matches and given a ban. For 1 game.

Mind you, rugby league is not a good example. Punching is routinely overlooked in rugby league, leading to lenient sentences being handed out and cries of inconsistency. Also, the administrators of this particular sport seem to take some misanthropic delight in playing up this gladiatorial aspect of the game.

Australian coach Ricky Stuart put it best when he said this:

"I see this is a part of football. The media promote it. Our marketing promote this. Tell me you won't see Willie Mason on the TV again dropping this bloke. We're talking about tribal war here . . . that's what gives our game the X-factor.

"That's Test-match football. That's what makes our game so different to every other footy code and every other sport. I don't condone violence but don't put it in the papers, don't put it on TV. Don't promote it."

When rugby league's hypocrisy can be laid so starkly bare, it's no surprise that players such as Mason get so ridiculously out of control.

3. The second "International rules" "football" "test match"

And on the subject of thuggery, getting back to "International rules" for a moment, the events of the second test match on the weekend in Dublin between Ireland and Australia had to be seen to be believed.

During the week, the media played up comments by Australian players that the match was to be a "square up" after one of the Irish players was suspended for kneeing. That's right. They were getting "square" with a player who wouldn't even be taking to the field.

The Irish coach has called for future series to be scrapped, calling the Australian players "thugs" in the process. Irish administrators have referred to "thuggery". About the only people who appear to think that there is no issue here are the Australians who do not seem to understand what the fuss is all about.

The odd thing is that Australian coach Kevin Sheedy appears to think that (a) the Irish were the aggressors in the first and second test match, and (b) this sort of "physicality" is actually part of the game.

Now, I'm not sure what planet Kevin Sheedy thinks that the rest of the world is these days, but he was certainly watching a different game to the rest of us.

The object of the game is to get the ball from one end of the ground to the other and score goals. Sheedy appears to think nothing of what seemed to be the unstated aim of the Australian players to knock as many Irishmen unconscious as they could.

To further hammer home the disconnect that appears to exist between the GAA and the AFL, we have representatives of the GAA, none more strident than Sean Boylan the coach who has said that he nearly didn't take to the field after half time, and that the series will not continue on his guard.

The GAA's president Nicky Brennan agrees and has called for the series to be axed.

On the other hand, the AFL's Mike Fitzpatrick seemed blissfully unaware that anything untoward had actually happened, although he admitted to being "uneasy" about the events that took place in the first quarter.

If uneasy was all he felt, queasy is how I feel.

4. Champions trophy presentation

The Australian cricket team have had this happening for some time.

Whether it's Glenn McGrath picking out his "bunny" for the series, Shane Warne doing his bit for the reputation of straight white males everywhere or whoever else getting sent home a bit of nocturnal silliness with alcohol.

The Australian cricket team have relished their "arrogant" reputation for some time. In fact, one (I forget who) seemed to think that this was a good thing: "It shows that they fear us."

Great. What it shows, dickhead, is that they don't think of you as a bunch of good blokes.

After winning the final, the trophy was presented to them by a local politician and senior national cricket administrator. OK.

What happened next was astoundingly stupid, even for this team of geniuses. As they shook hands with the VIP, one of them apparently said, "Hiya buddy!" before they physically shuffled him off the podium so they could showboat with the trophy in front of the camera.

The Indian media went berzerk. The Indian cricketers, even the softly spoken Sachin Tendulkar were amazingly critical, and the Australian players themselves didn't seem to know what they even did wrong.

In a sign that this kind of disrespect is not thought of terribly highly on the sub-continent, one of the locals painted their goat green and gold and wrote the name Damien Martyn on the side, after the cricketer who did the shoving of the official. Ricky Ponting, Australian captain is also said to have manhandled the official.

So what has caused this epidemic of poor sportsmanship?

It appears that you haven't made it in the world of Australian sport unless you are acting like the world's worst moron.

Is it insecurity? These guys have all left school and found that the nerds that they beat up at school are truly running the world.

Personally, I blame Lleyton Hewitt and Anthony Mundine. They were the first of this current wave, and they deserve to be carpeted for it. Mundine at leats gets away with it because boxers are at least, thank you Muhammed Ali, are supposed to act like complete tools.

Lleyton Hewitt, on the other hand, just don't get me started.

Listen. John McEnroe was a complete dill. He might have been a phenomenal tennis player, but he acted like a tosspot. And yeah we loved it, but we weren't looking at the tennis. We were looking at him acting the goat. And the crowd egged him on, too. People still wander up to him in the street and yell at him, "You cannot be serious!!"

And so it will be with this lot. And we won't remember them as the great sportsmen that they might be. We'll remember as this bunch of idiot frat boys, instead.


Anonymous said...

Nice bagging there Dikkii...:)

Personally, I think the arrogance started with Allan Border. A more arrogant captain we've never had and when it comes to sporting cudos, being captain of our cricket team, winning or losing, is both the benchmark and the pinacle. Although you are right in that he pales to insignificance besides either Hewitt or Mundine, they take the prize for sure.

As to the rugby, there was a time when the violence was the attraction. I saw a doco the other day that said rugby was promoted in Britain in between wars. The reasoning was that soccer had no violence and rugby kept crime down. They say it works but I wasn't convinced. You have to agree though that even without any punching, rugby (not that stop/start League crap, the real and most excellent thing) is an extremely violent game.

Dikkii said...

I have to agree with you vis-a-vis rugby league, Ted. I used to be a fan, and growing up on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, I was a Manly fan. Mind you, you had to be, or you got bagged at school.

I saw the light when I moved to Melbourne in 1991 and became a Swans fan with a passion. The Super League split of the late nineties sealed it.

But yeah. Rugby union is still the real deal, as far as the rugby codes go. And, I have to say, it appears that rugby union players are the only high profile Australian sportsmen who don't act like arrogant chopsticks at the moment. Probably because they don't have much to be arrogant about or, more likely, because discipline seems to be exercised with an iron fist.

Allan Border? You could be right. It is said that he brought sledging to the fore and encouraged it to a rather large extent to ensure that the Australian team used every possible tactic to unsettle the opposition. I rather think that it was around before Border, but he probably did seize upon it as a way to gain an advantage.

That's an interesting stat you have regarding soccer and violence from that doco. Personally, I think that the tension that builds in a low scoring game like soccer has more to do with it. Particularly if that tension is punctuated by a bad call from a referee. I think that if there was more violence in soccer, it would actually build this tention and make things worse.

Of course I could be wrong. But as always, thanks for dropping by.

Anonymous said...

It's the kind of thing that's bound to happen when a nation's self-esteem is so totally tied to its performance in sport, and in that sense Australia has a lot to be proud of. It's a similar situation in India with cricket, except that we're nowhere quite as successful at it. Greg's blog documents really well what sort of poor behaviour people are willing to overlook from their sportsmen as long as they are good at what they do.

The Pawar issue is a little bit more complex though, and also involves the country's colonial history and the racial/national self-image problems that come with it; Pawar might be just another grandstanding bureaucrat, but dammit he's _our_ bureaucrat, and the Australians have been coming here long enough to know the most basic protocol. Indians don't know and don't care whether these guys behave like arseholes on their own turf, and clearly it came as a surprise that they would do it here, after the game was over. In a country where protocol is so much more important it was bound to become a big deal.

Dikkii said...

G'day Taj. You wrote:

"[Australia's] self-esteem is so totally tied to its performance in sport..."

Not too much out of context I hope.

This has always shat me to tears. Why sport? Where is our national competitiveness off the field in areas like Nobel prizes?

And why is it that if a politician engaged in this kind of behaviour, there would be calls for their immediate dismissal?

The public are fickle nuff-nuffs and should be showing some contempt for these kinds of antics.

Taj I don't think that the Pawar issue is as complex as you describe.

For example, the question, should be asked, if it were an Australian politician handing out the trophy, would they have pushed him out of the way?

The answer, unsurprisingly is "no".

If it was an administrator of Cricket Australia, would they have done it?

Negatori. Unless they never wanted to be selected again.

It is, as you say, a big deal, and not just because of cultural differences. The cricketers behaved like brainless yobbos and treated Pawar with an immense amount of disrespect.

Why there's any disagreement about this at all in the Australian media confuses the heck out of me.

Anonymous said...

I have to admit that I wasn't really that impressed by their argument but it was an interesting enough concept.

The tension you mention was part of the argument. If it boils over in the crowd, it gets real ugly, real fast. With rugby, the violence is committed right there on the field for everyone to see and enjoy. They said that watching it take place satiates the desire to do it yourself.

The fact that they don't ponce around is another reason I like union. They might be big men and prone to committing serious violence on the field, but they also seem to be humble in both victory and defeat and basically, are a "top bunch of blokes".

Dikkii said...

Must admit, Anon, I really don't look at sport much these days. Apart from Australian Rules football, which I'm guessing you might not have seen much of.

But thanks heaps for dropping by - I don't think I get rugby league fans very often.