LAST MONTH'S WINNERS IN SPORT
The hit-and-giggle form of cricket is evolving past the "giggle" part. (Photo by Getty Images)
Between the World Cup and the Big Bash League, this might be remembered as the breakthrough summer for T20 cricket. Not only in a commercial sense, but in terms of a mindset shift – that people who like to watch our favoured summer pastime want it in the 20-over form, and not because they’re grasping at novelty, entertainment or just want to take the kids out for a night. Indeed, the old hit-and-giggle is evolving past the “giggle” part – one day, we might find ourselves having to explain why Andrew Johns has stats from the “first-class” T20 comp – and the game’s administration should respond accordingly. One of the first things they can do is to treat T20 with more seriousness than it currently receives, and a major sign of that would be to end the practice of players being mic’d up during games. The players, among them Steve Smith and Dave Warner, have been pretty cool about it, but it’s beside the point – T20 doesn’t have to prove that it’s the more loose and fun form of cricket.
Let’s state this up front: God Save The Queen has its good qualities when sung before the game, mainly because it doesn’t take too long. But we’re intrigued by the idea of an English anthem, which will be debated again next month in British parliament. The idea is sensible – England often competes as a standalone entity these days, and God Save The Queen should be reserved for whenever the GB or UK is lining up. Scotland and Wales have their own songs (good ones, at that), so why not England? Jerusalem is an early favourite, backed by David Cameron no less, and has been used by England’s cricketers in recent times. Which gets one thinking: if we were to go through this exercise, would we end up with Under The Southern Cross I Stand (or Khe Sanh) as our Aussie sporting anthem?
It’s crunch time for FIFA. As we went to press, there were five candidates for the presidency, to be decided this month by a member vote of the 209 federations who make up that disgraced organisation. But there were also appeals against bans pending for the disgraced former head Sepp Blatter and his UEFA cohort Michel Platini, which may yet see them return to the race ... as preposterous as that sounds, these men are not short of gall. In the lead-up to the vote, each candidate presented something of a “platform” for their election. Most mouthed the right concepts of “reform” and set up their websites. But beyond those few utterances from an uninspiring line-up, what we have got has been more of the same: more secret meetings behind closed doors between candidates where horse-trading was again on the agenda. It seemed that the nationality of the president was deemed more important than any agenda for reform. Despite his apparent credentials as an imprisoned colleague of Nelson Mandela, not to mention his fantastic name, South African contender Tokyo Sexwale offered little hope for a fresh start. “The time for alliances is coming,” he said last month before disappearing into hotel rooms in Doha to talk deals with rivals Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa (head of the Asian Football Confederation), and Gianni Infantino (general secretary of UEFA). The other two candidates, Jerome Champagne, a former FIFA deputy general secretary, and Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, were rumoured to be somewhere thereabouts. Brace yourself, football. This is going to hurt.
AND THE LOSERS ...
Lamine Diack (left) and Sebastian Coe, (Photo by Getty Images)
There’s pretty vigorous competition for worst sporting body in the world at the moment, but it’s hard to match the IAAF for sheer malfeasance. The second part of WADA’s independent report into the athletics organisation was as bad as potentially feared – not only a hive of systemic corruption, a la FIFA, but one that struck right at the heart of the governing body’s primary responsibility. Under former president Lamine Diack, the IAAF profited from covering up evidence of and not enforcing rules against widespread doping in Russian athletics. The report made a particular point that this was not a rogue element operating within the IAAF, like some wayward trader bringing down a bank; it came directly from the top levels of the organisation. And somehow, in the kind of doublethink that pervades international sports governance these days, the current IAAF head and former vice president under Diack, Sebastian Coe, has been called the right man to lead the sport out of this mess, given the seal of approval by one of the WADA report’s authors, Dick Pound. Whether a figure like Coe can rebuild confidence is very much an open question. Sportswear giant Adidas has given its answer, terminating a multi-million dollar sponsorship with the IAAF four years early.
Chris Gayle's "don't blush baby" interview
Sport has often proved a useful vehicle for the discussion of social issues, but the now-notorious Chris Gayle “don’t blush baby” interview exposed its accompanying limitations. Some would write it off as trivial, but Gayle’s awkward advance at Network Ten’s Mel McLaughlin was too resonant to be called that. It was an unpleasant reminder that dinosaur attitudes, particularly towards women in the workplace, take longer to die than we think, but also that social media-aided over-reaction doesn’t absolve the original offence. The Gayle affair spun off into other dimensions: he’s an entertainer, there’s his culture, so forth. But much as what happened with the Adam Goodes controversy last year, the level of discourse was dragged down by sports’ time-honoured codes of behaviour – the right to boo, or the bloke’s domain – which connect strongly to a sense of identity, and defy attempts at rational discussion. Sport has been a useful prism for social issues because people care about the games they play and follow, but this emotional involvement has its downside. If every serious social issue that manifests itself in sport becomes fodder for hysteria, then that vehicle is bound to go off-road.
The endgame on the Essendon Bombers’ supplements scandal has played out, save for some side legal actions involving players, Stephen Dank and others. In hindsight, the club and the AFL could have followed Cronulla and the NRL’s lead and spared much ink spilled and bandwidth consumed, although we better understand the legal concept of “comfortable satisfaction” now. But of the curiosities that emerged out of this protracted saga, the outpouring of Essendon sympathy in response to CAS’ overruling of the AFL Tribunal was rather misplaced. Bombers fans could be forgiven for a passionate overreaction, or anger at the AFL’s indelicate handling of the entire issue. But the notion that the 34 were victims, and punishment should have been directed instead at the club’s decision-makers, flies in the face of the anti-doping regime. It brought out the great mendacity that afflicts Aussie sports fans when it comes to drug cheats – we’ll howl at suspect dopers from other countries, yet shower excuses and understanding when it’s one of our own. The nation has prided itself on the hard line it has traditionally taken toward doping, and how it has urged countries to band together to stop it. But in a significant test case for how it should work, we’ve shown how difficult it can be to walk the talk.
After a period of relative decorum, footballer misbehaviour made a roaring comeback this preseason. The Collingwood sexting scandal followed the Dustin Martin incident, then Mitchell Pearce’s Australia Day antics opened up an equivalent front in Sydney. Each mishap was connected by the digital thread, caught on a camera phone, and one has to question how much these scandals feed on the presence of documentary evidence that didn’t exist back in the day, when footy players surely got up to worse. The nature of the actual transgressions seem to matter less, and the stature of the player involved and/or the PR crisis management of the relevant club or league are made more important. About the only thing we can rely on is we’ll eventually forget about this misbehaviour, because of two things that follow: actual games, and fresh, new scandals.