Check out the other winners ... and losers from the past month in sport.
INSIDE SPORT'S WINNERS AND LOSERS FROM THE PAST MONTH IN SPORT ...
WINNER: RICHIE BENAUD
Sportspeople can be readily judged on what they won or how they scored. But in assessing a sporting life, beyond the trophies and the records, perhaps the best measure is the regard that others hold for that person. And by that standard, Richie Benaud is truly pre-eminent. The public reaction to Benaud’s passing spoke volumes for what he was to sport and to the wider popular culture. He was the dignified presence that reassured us every summer, the calm centre of cricket’s grand show and a template for how television commentary should be done. And while he was beyond being judged merely by numbers and stats, his playing and captaincy record alone were worthy of esteem: the first all-rounder to surpass 2000 runs and 200 wickets, Australia’s leading wicket-taker in Tests until Dennis Lillee, undefeated in any series as leader of the nation’s XI, which included historic encounters in the Ashes, against the West Indies and on the subcontinent. But influence is far harder to quantify, and in the words of Gideon Haigh, Benaud was “perhaps the most influential cricketer and cricket personality since the Second World War”. The tributes to Benaud invoked comparisons with a figure no less than the Don. Bradman went into lore with “99.94” attached to his name, and it’s telling that Richie will not be associated with a number or a mark. Instead, we’ll think of a word: marvellous.
WINNER: SALARY INFORMATION BEING MADE PUBLIC
Footballers will surely dislike it, but salary information being made public is an idea whose time has come. After this latest round of NRL horse-trading and a salary cap controversy in the A-League, of all places, it’s hard to see how fans should view the various cap systems with anything other than a healthy dose of cynicism. The codes cling to their payroll rules as integral to their leagues’ survival, arguing that it promotes the kind of competitive balance among clubs that supporters would want. We’re told this, yet the actual mechanics of salary cap management are then pulled behind the curtain, kept out of view, and the fans have to take it on faith. Athletes’ Alliance chief Brendan Schwab has sounded the call for publishing salary information as a way to keep clubs accountable – while it would be no guarantee of eliminating salary cap cheating, the watchful eyes of the public are a useful safeguard in creating an atmosphere of compliance. Schwab argues further that it could also help the players, first by ensuring each club spends its cap more effectively, as well as clear up the misconception that every footballer is well-paid. Having your wage out in the public domain is always a touchy subject, but as every footballer is told, getting to play for a living is a privilege – and one of the compromises that goes with it is having the crowds know what’s in your paycheque.
WINNER: JORDAN SPIETH
Jordan Spieth’s emergence at the Masters has produced plenty of superlatives, and the 21-year-old’s record-setting performance on the course at Augusta surely seems like the start of something significant. In the period of golf’s modern Majors, only nine men have won one of the big four titles before turning 25, and seven of those players went on to win four or more. As Spieth mentioned in the aftermath, his impressive victory in the Australian Open last November had been a catalyst – having been somewhat nervy under pressure in his career to that point, he decisively outplayed a class field in a championship setting. We can look forward to seeing the green-jacket-wearer on our shores again later this year when he defends his Aussie title, as well as a great prospect in the longer term – if Spieth can indeed be the foil to Rory McIlroy, golf will have an era-defining rivalry on its hands, and its first compelling post-Tiger narrative.
LOSER: REF HATE
There’s venting at the whistle-blower, and then there are points when ref hate tips over into something that undermines the sport itself. It’s bubbled away through the past few years in the NRL, then came to the boil in the opening part of this season, culminating in the ugly bottle-throwing incident at the Bulldogs-Rabbitohs match in round five. There are plenty of bad actors in this situation, and the standard and structure of officiating is a legitimate issue. But if you’re to single out one element, it would have to be the league’s coaches. We understand that their jobs are under constant pressure, and in a tightly arranged competition, being at the mercy of a referee’s decision is its own kind of anxiety. But the open season on officials in post-match press conferences would be tedious if it weren’t so damaging. Every coach in the NRL would call themselves a servant of the game, but more than a few don’t blink when it comes to dragging their league’s credibility into question. The idea that the refs should have to defend their decisions or answer questions about their performance is ludicrous – that is, unless a ref can ask a coach why his team didn’t try to win the game better.
May 29 is D-Day for FIFA. Do they re-elect Sepp Blatter as president for the fifth time? You know, the man who has presided over the gutting of almost all integrity and credibility for the largest sports organisation on the planet during his tenure? Or do they finally say enough is enough – it is time for change, and choose one of the other three candidates, either former Portugal international Luis Figo (pictured left), Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, or the Dutch football association president Michael van Praag? As we went to press the machinations of vote manipulation were well underway, with the head of the African Football Confederation pledging all 54 votes from that continent to Blatter. How does that work? How would he know? With the world finally awake to Blatter’s nefarious influence in manipulating votes, FIFA watchers are bracing themselves for new lows. But it will be a brighter day for world sport when he is finally ousted. All true believers hope that day comes this month.
LOSER: THE CONCEPT OF "REBUILDING"
Every club should have a plan, but the 2015 footy season so far should convince us all that any team that’s talking phases – whether you call it rebuilding or whatever else – should be met with a laugh. The idea that a football club can deliver wins on schedule is just dubious. Carlton was talking blueprints after a shaky start in the AFL, while Manly was heading in the same direction after staring at the prospect of its first wooden spoon in the rugby league. Meanwhile, St George-Illawarra, a club that had stripped down its roster in advance of a renovation project, jumped out of the gate to hit the top of the NRL ladder. You have to have some sympathy for the people who run teams – as Phil Gould noted about his experience back in Penrith’s front office, our codes are rigged these days to yo-yo clubs up and down the ladder, which really undermines the incentive to take a long-term view. In such an environment, a failure to plan is not planning to fail – in fact, planning to fail doesn’t turn out to be planning to fail.