Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Stop treating sport as a religion

I enjoy watching sport and I barrack for Essendon but I don't think sport is a religion and it certainly is not what it once was.

In his day Sir Donald Bradman was up there on a par with prime minister Robert Menzies in public standing. Even more recently, in 1996, I thought it was great when John Howard resumed the tradition of the PM's XI in Canberra. I thought then it was great because it accorded our cricket team a standing that befitted the national team. But sadly, I don't think these days will last.

It's time politicians started treating sport as the business it is, not a religion. Children should be taught that sport is good fun and a healthy activity for body and brain, but it is only a game.

Senior people in sport e.g. Australian Rules Football describe their sport as an "industry". Of course they are right, but an "industry" is rather different to the idea of sport for the glory of the club or country.

The truth now is that most elite sport is principally a form of entertainment. Players play for the money; I don't begrudge them for that but the idea of playing elite sport for the love of the game is now different.

As the ACC report says, the sport and recreation industry was worth $8.82 billion in 2006. And money changes everything, including attitudes to winning and fair play, as suggested by the ACC and doping authority:

The ACC and ASADA have identified significant issues in professional and sub-elite sport in Australia which undermine the principles of fair play as a direct consequence of the use of PIEDs.

Money affects what players are prepared to do to win, the attitude to other players, and the behaviour of players. Personally, I don't like the grunting by tennis players or the exaggerated expressions of a player who has just won an important point or goal. I also don't like the young players who make so much money that it goes to their head and they don't know how to behave. I was taught that winning is not everything and spitting the dummy is bad manners.

Not surprisingly, with lots of money at stake for all the participants, the fringe dwellers in society are looking for their chance to make a quid on the side. No wonder the police are wondering about what is happening when a soccer game between a Melbourne team and the Adelaide team attracted wagers of nearly $50 million on the outcome of one match alone.

The activities of the ACC are clearly justified, although I have my doubts about the way they have proceeded. A general warning seems fair enough, although I wonder, given that these problems have been known about for some time, why hasn't anybody been charged?

Is it really necessary to slander a whole group of people, most of whom find drugs as abhorrent as much as the rest of society? Is it fair to besmirch sports organisations as a group and on a grand scale when so many people are totally innocent and just love their footy or other activity? I would like to know who had the idea to make a big splash with the ACC report. Given that the report was restrained in what it could say publicly, what other strategies could have been used to get out their message?

It's no wonder that the release of the Australian Crime Commission Report into sport has raised concerns about the ACC's modus operandi - not because of its report but because of the involvement of the Government. Already I can't help but think that the commission would have been wiser to have kept the Government at a distance from the report.

Whatever Labor does in the next six months, it will have to think strategically to do whatever it can to disassociate itself from Mr Obeid, former Labor National Labor party president Mike Williamson, and former Labor MP Craig Thomson. More importantly, it also has an obligation to try to avoid tarnishing, by their associations, third parties such as the ACC.

There are now two examples where Labor's associations have been a problem. In my view, they demonstrate that the Government's ability to govern will be handicapped more than ever as the election looms.

Clearly the announcement of the early election was derailed by Thomson and Obeid and then coloured by the reception to the announcement of two ministers jumping ship. It was a classic case that the political baggage already accumulated by the Gillard team impaired its ability to even announce the date for an election.

The second example could be more serious.

I am now wondering if the timing and presentation of the ACC report may also have been, albeit even to a limited degree, determined by the Government. If so, was the timing wise given the Government's obvious need for a fresh agenda at the time of the continuing Obeid and Thomson matters?

The Government wants to parade Jason Clare as Labor's minister to pull back some votes in Western Sydney. What Minister Clare can't afford is to be seen as pursuing the Coalition instead of the doping issues. In my view, for that reason, it would be wise, from now on, for Gillard and Clare to keep out of the sports issue lest they politicise the issues and thus undermine the ACC.

Labor is desperate for money. Maybe this would be a good time to cut some of the middle class welfare that Labor likes to target.

Maybe politicians should stop treating sport as a religion and chop back sports funding at places like the Institute of Sport, which was set up by the Fraser government and which was modelled on the East German model after we failed to win enough Olympic medals when Fraser was PM.

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