The power of sport
This is not a League v Union v AFL v Soccer rant. This is about whether we can agree that sport is important. If we agree it is important, then surely we can work together to do it better.
Sport can be part of a coordinated strategy to get a number of results - we need healthier kids, we need people to think binge drinking isn’t acceptable, we need people to want to solve conflict without violence. We need more kids to dream, big.
The ugly argument about what is better - thugby league, yawnion, gayfl or wogball - is as sophomoric as those phrases are offensive.
Sport is great because of the actions of athletes, not a set of administrator’s rules. (We all know that if we were born in the Netherlands we would be mad-crazy handball fans.)
Sport puts on great live events in big spaces. But other forms of entertainment do that too. Sports makes great reality TV, but others do that too.
Sport has something unique. Sport can balance conflicts. It can be “both/and”, that is:
Both highly-planned and utterly unpredictable.
Both small suburban grounds and big glistening stadiums.
Both community-minded and business-like.
And our players are both elite and just like everyone else.
Brendan Fevola’s drunken behaviour was reprehensible, but no worse than a few businessmen I have seen at similar events. Both startlingly boorish, and all too common.
The structure of sport in Australia means we have professional athletes and publicly-supported athletes (in the “medal sports”) who earn, on average, not enough to be out of touch.
In the US, the average contracted NFL footballer player earns 50 times the average American worker, MLB baseballer 70 times the average, NBA basketballer higher still.
In comparison, an NRL footballer earns about 2.2 times the average national income, an A-league player less, an AFL player slightly more. (Or as it was reported this week, one-78th of the salary of the former CEO of Macquarie Bank.)
Sportsmen and women in Australia are elite in their performance, but not segregated by economics from our society.
As a result, elite sport in Australia belongs in the community, and it fits comfortably there. When it comes to the weekend’s big games they belong where they can be accessed not by the lucky few but as many people as possible. Stadia where the average fan spending their hard-earned entertainment dollar can get a hot pie and an ice-cold diet cola and get back into their seat in time for kick off. (Independent Senator Steven Fielding asked me to choose that beverage.)
As a result, Australia’s elite athletes can be found training in public (and performing vital community service) in the community.
Elite athletes will practice up to twice a day, five days a week right where everyone can see them.
The hard work of athletes is the best free show in town.
But when we play the big games, we smush people together, we bring the different tribes together and help break down the artificial barriers of society
Whether we come together for the support of Hazem el Masri, or just together in close physical proximity, it makes us realize that the odd looking people (defined as anyone who doesn’t look like you) actually ain’t that bad after all.
The more kids who get to see a young indigenous young man doing something positive, the more they will want to know about indigenous culture.
The more a non-Muslim family sits next to a Muslim family the more they will understand the culture ain’t so whacky after all. And vice-versa.
Sport is far from a perfect ally in an attempt to send great messages and inspire kids.
Sport throws us big themes, stories of redemption, greed, overcoming adversity, and the power of working together. And big themes are like Greek fables—they often play out in tragedies. For every phoenix soaring from the ashes there is the youthful exuberance of Icarus.
On the whole, sport is an effective way to get the right messages out.
And not just for kids.
Maybe a few bosses will leave their company’s Christmas party a little earlier this year, some more people will stay sober and a multitude of avoidable problems will be avoided. That would be a silver lining from the pain which our club and former coach Jason Taylor has had to go through.
Full disclosure: I go to some big games by train and some I drive to and park under the ground. I live near the a great training facility in Redfern. I have more than a passing interest in the South Sydney Rabbitohs who play out of ANZ Stadium. I chair ISFM, a company that consults on stadia and is helping design cricket grounds in China. I will cheer for the Eels on Sunday, and did for Geelong last weekend, and my wife has no idea why I enjoy sport so much.
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