Disliking sports in Australia is like saying carbs are overrated in Italy or stripes aren’t a good look in France. Photo: Getty
Sports and I never had a chance. When it came to that dreaded time to choose teams in school sports, I would always be chosen at the tail end. My tiny, doll-like proportions compelled fellow schoolmates to enquire “Can I pick you up?” rather than to pick me for their tee ball team. For a brief shining moment it looked like I might be built for gymnastics, but that dream was dashed by my genetically tight hamstrings.
I became adept at figuring out ways to avoid sports. I would spend afternoons in the outfield (or whatever it’s called when you’re playing cricket – do I sound like I care?) hunting in the grass for four-leafed clovers, only to be rudely interrupted when someone more physically gifted than I belted the ball out that far thus ruining my reverie. I would mysteriously fall ill when it was time to do cross country running. If I had demonstrated the same dexterity in dodging balls as I did in dodging P.E. class I don’t doubt I would’ve been picked first every time.
Now I’m not sure how much my childhood athletic incompetence has contributed to my absolute disdain for sports as an adult. I don’t think a talent at sport is necessary to have a love of it (as evidence I present this never-not-funny video of cricket loving ex-PM John Howard trying to bowl). I also have friends who were equally spatially inept growing up and now read Grantland on the regular. However it came about, I’m happy that I was somehow inoculated against the sports mania that seems so deeply ingrained in the average Aussie.
Disliking sports in Australia is like saying carbs are overrated in Italy or stripes aren’t a good look in France. You’re swimming against an overwhelming tide of media coverage, government funding and the general culture that says sports is a defining aspect of the Australian way of life. At a recent BBQ a friend said I should try to learn to like sports simply because it’s such a part of the national conversation – to reject it is akin to remaining wilfully ignorant of politics or world events or what’s happening on Girls. I have to admit he may have had a point, as there’ve been many times at social gatherings when the conversation has turned to sport and I’ve stood there mute and daydreaming yet again. I can’t help but see sports as a sort of soap opera that I don’t know the plot or characters of, and I have no interest in taking the time to become involved.
A large part of me remains grateful to remaining immune to the lure of sports fanaticism, as “unAustralian” as that makes me feel. Our country, similarly to the US, has a ridiculously overinflated sense of how important sport is and I believe that damages our culture. Did you know 23 per cent of Australian of the Year awards have gone to sportspeople? Is being able to hit a ball really, really well that much of a useful achievement? I think it must be particularly difficult for women who are also sports fans, given that pretty much across the board in sports female competitors are given less media coverage, less sponsorship money and less respect for their achievements than their male counterparts. Why would you want to be part of a club that so obviously doesn’t want you?
Now to be clear, my problem with sports isn’t with the average person who wants to go out, play sports and be active, it’s with the culture of professional sports and the esteem that it is held up to in our society (especially how it pulls focus from the achievements of Australian scientists and artists and humanitarians). These disproportionate accolades and funding raise my ire, but there also seems to be something even deeper and more rotten in the state of modern sport. The level of privilege and amount of rules bent for those people whose life achievements include moving fast or throwing a ball well is both staggering and disturbing. The recent Steubenville case was disgusting in its alleged cover up to try and protect the attackers’ potential future football star status. The Australian 4x100m men’s relay team’s use of Stilnox in the pursuit of team bonding was bizarre. The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority’s investigation into the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs in the NRL continues. Lance Armstrong’s lies shocked the world. And in case you couldn’t guess, I actively avoid reading the sports pages so I’m sure I’ve missed plenty of examples of misogyny, violence and illegal behaviour in the professional sports realm.
While I do believe there are good athletes out there, it seems to me that sport’s pursuit of victory at all costs and the dehumanisation of ‘the other’ in pursuit of team bonding are the exact opposite of what we as a society should be celebrating. I was glad to hear last week that funding has been threatened to be cut to several heavily taxpayer-funded sports if they don’t adhere to mandatory governance reforms (one of the principles being a better gender balance of board members). Hopefully this will be a step towards dismantling the unethical behaviour that has become rife.
And to all the other sports haters out there I’m very pleased to have you on my ragtag, underdog, thoroughly unAustralian team. We sports haters might not be as loud as the sports fans (mainly because we don’t have vuvuzelas). We may not know what you’re talking about when asked, “Are you watching the finals this weekend?” We may consistently confuse rugby union and rugby league. But together we look forward to the day when Australia’s national pride doesn’t rise and fall with the Olympic medal tally.