Does our sport choose our politics?
Something to chew on while we all wait for this tedious election stalemate to sort itself out. It’s about sports people who become politicians, and the way their former sport influences their political leanings.
Here’s the deal. Politicians with a background in individual sports gravitate towards the conservative side. Conversely, politicians who made their name in team sports usually end up on the left.
Makes sense, really. In individual sports, the struggle is yours and yours alone. Fail, and there’s nobody to blame but you. It’s pure, sweaty libertarianism.
In team sports, the group benefits from individuals working collectively towards a common goal. No “I” in team, and all that.
This theory even holds true by association. Look at Julia hangin’ with the Western Bulldogs, while Abbott slugged it out in his sluggos in the endurance triathlon from hell.
New Liberal member for Bennelong, John Alexander, is a former star in the solo sport of tennis. Solo sport, conservative platform. (Shame he didn’t run as an independent. His stint as a ref in the wacky TV show Gladiators could’ve served us all well in the current deadlock.)
Before Alexander, the most prominent ex-sporting Liberal was Pat Farmer, in the mortgage belt seat of Macarthur. A former ultra-marathoner, Farmer no doubt related to the long, arduous burden of paying off a hefty McMansion mortgage.
Overseas, too, conservatives from individual sports abound. Middle distance runner Seb Coe became a Tory MP and now heads London’s Olympics Organising Committee. In the US, bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger became Republican Governator of California. Former WWF Wrestler Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura became the Governor of Minnesota in 1999 as an independent candidate, with views too libertarian for the Republicans and ran on a ticket of tax refunds for residents (interestingly Schwarzenegger and Ventura were buddies, but fell out when Ventura criticised the way Arnie was running California).
On the other side of the fence, Victorian planning minister Justin Madden was a dual AFL premiership winner. His comrade, Kirstie Marshall (she of the ejection from the VIC parly for breast feeding), was a world champion in the solo sport of aerial skiing. That seems to blow my theory out of the water, except that aerial skiers train and live together in a team-like environment. And of course, minority sports tend to enjoy all kinds of government funding, so if you want to make inferences about the welfare teat, don’t let me stop you.
In NSW, dual rugby international Mike Cleary held down a spot in the NSW lower house for a decade and a half. Further afield, cricketer Imran Khan cobbled together a Pakistan team capable of winning a cricket world cup, then found it harder to assemble a cohesive political opposition in Pakistan.
We may yet see some familiar names cross over to politics in the future. Cricketer Steve Waugh, from Paul Keating’s old ’hood of Bankstown, has thus far resisted Labor’s courting, while swimmers Kieren Perkins and Grant Hackett have held out to overtures from the Libs.
The real question is why anyone would make the switch from a career where you enjoy widespread admiration to a career where half the population automatically hates you?
All I can think of is that the two professions share a small piece of common turf: a week is a long time in both of them.
* NO DOUBT I’VE THERE ARE COUNTLESS MORE EXAMPLES, INCLUDING PLENTY WHO DISPROVE THE THEORY. WE WANT NAMES, PEOPLE. NAMES!
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