I love my sport. I have never been a particularly talented sportsperson but, over the years, I have enjoyed doing my individual best in a competitive environment in a range of sports including cricket (indoor and outdoor); rugby league; rugby union; Aussie Rules; BMX; Golf; Squash; MTB and Indoor Netball. In social environments I have played many others. I have participated in all of these sports for the camaraderie and enjoyment and to stay fit.
Australia is a sporting nation and we punch well above our weight in relation to our population on the world stage. When I mention a variety of sports, names spring to mind instantly. Cricket instantly brings up the name of Don Bradman and most Australians can instantly quote his batting average of 99.94. Adam Gilchrist also sits near the top of the list of recognised cricketers. Mention rugby league and names such as Wally Lewis and Reg Gasnier immediately come to mind. Tennis brings up Rod Laver and Margaret Court. Motor Sports delivers two names immediately – Peter Brock and Sir Jack Brabham – for touring cars and Formula One. You can’t have a conversation about Rugby Union without the names of John Eales and Mark Ella being mentioned. Swimming has a myriad of stars (as our most successful sport at the Olympics) but Ian Thorpe and Dawn Fraser sit on top of the water – some say walking on it. Golfers talk about Peter Thomson and the under-achieving Greg Norman while Aussie Rules fans discuss the merits of Gary Ablett (both of them) and Leigh Matthews. Squash may not receive as much recognition as other sports but Heather McKay’s 16 consecutive British Open championships meant that she received recognition almost above that of the sport. Soccer’s best known are modern players Harry Kewell and Tim Cahill and if I mentioned the names Liz Ellis and Vicki Wilson you would immediately know I was discussing Netball. In Basketball it appears that Andrew is the favoured name with Bogut and Gaze both sharing the same first name. If you prefer two wheels, then of course Cadel Evans is the first name that springs to mind and Michael Doohan and Wayne Gardner preferred a motor on their two wheels.
While I could take up an entire column – perhaps magazine – with names almost as recognisable as these, I have a minor issue with the status that we give these sportspeople – our sporting stars are so often referred to as heroes. There is no doubt that sportspeople such as these mentioned were born with incredible natural talent. Whether that be hand-eye co-ordination or fast reflexes or an overdose of fast-twitch muscle fibres, their DNA was programmed from birth. They then added to that natural ability with hard work; training; determination and perseverance. All Aussies know the story of Don Bradman using a cricket stump to hit a golf ball against a corrugated-iron water tank to hone his skills as the ball fired back from various angles. The result of this combination of talent and hard work is that they were all incredibly successful in their chosen field. And to all of them I say congratulations and well done. They pursued a goal of personal achievement and then worked hard to reach it. In many circumstances, they were well rewarded. Apart from the endorsements and prize money, the Australian government often rewards our ‘heroes’. An Olympic Gold Medal brings an automatic payment of $20,000 from our government in addition to featuring on an Australian stamp; an upgraded flight home and an OAM. Since 1960 when we awarded our first Australian of the Year, 25 per cent of the recipients have been sportspeople.
Where I struggle is when we talk about great sportspeople as being heroes, or even as great Australians. I really struggle to see how sportspeople have made a more significant contribution to our nation than so many others who toil away, not for personal benefit or awards, but who work selflessly for the benefit of others. I don’t understand how someone attaining their personal sporting goal helps you or I in our everyday life. I understand how a teacher or a nurse helps out so many in our community. I understand how the 19.6 per cent of our population in Dubbo who volunteer for so many organisations are making a difference to people in our community every single day. I understand how people such as Fred Hollows; Caroline Chisholm; Elizabeth Kenny; Barry Marshall; John Flynn; Nancy Wake and Howard Florey have helped countless people live better lives. I understand how grandparents holding a lollipop stick outside schools help deliver children safely home to their parents each and every day. I understand how we should call firemen heroes for risking their lives in horrific situations to try and save just one person.
I just don’t get how hitting a bit of cork covered in leather with a lump of tree – and doing it very well – makes someone a great Australian.
As I said at the beginning of this article, I love my sport. I encourage all Dubbonians to get out and play sport regularly and be healthier and enjoy being amongst friends. But when we want to find a hero, just go to your nearest cake stall or service club BBQ or hospital and thank the real heroes in our community.
Tell me if you think my comments are un-Australian at firstname.lastname@example.org