WINNERS Champions of the World. PHOTO BY GETTY IMAGES.



A shout-out is in order for the Diamonds, Boomers and Opals, who reminded us recently that we are indeed a net-and-court country, too. The nation’s netballers (pictured above) claimed a World Cup victory that was anticipated, but hardly automatic, as their rivals from New Zealand beat them once in pool play and stretched them all the way in the final. The men’s and women’s basketball teams qualified for the Olympics next year, but the real takeaway of their Homecoming event in Melbourne was the spectacle that the sport and its world-class talents can mount locally. Even better news: with the Boomers moving into the Asian zone for FIBA’s championships, there’s a chance that these events can become a regular fixture on the sporting calendar.


There’s an ambivalence in the public’s attitude toward Michael Clarke that he’s never quite been able to shake. One would think that Lara Bingle and the underwear ads could be consigned to ancient history, but early impressions do stick sometimes. The way Clarke went out, cricket-wise, hasn’t helped his cause either, as he couldn’t lead his last Test team to the victory that ultimately eluded him during his career, an Ashes’ series win in England. If Border is associated with Australian cricket’s fightback from the doldrums, and Taylor and Waugh a heyday of historic proportions, it unfortunately might be Clarke’s lot to be remembered for presiding over an era of fits and starts – more fuel for the ambivalent. It’s not entirely fair. The prodigy from Sydney’s west largely delivered on his promise as one of the defining Australian cricketers of his time, the nation’s fourth-highest run scorer in Tests and ODIs. His captaincy record of 24 wins, 16 losses and seven draws reflects his result-driven mindset, and his tactical acumen has long been admired even amid questions over his leadership style overall. It’s a curious exit for a figure that not too long ago was being lauded during the Phil Hughes tragedy and World Cup victory. But if it’s any consolation, should Clarke indeed segue to Nine’s television coverage, where he showed promise during the last Boxing Day Test, he’ll have the opportunity to revise his legacy from the comm box.


An analogy, if you’ll allow us: you win the lotto, and now have enough money to pursue some long-held dreams. The next day, the neighbour you’re slightly envious of wins an even bigger lotto. It doesn’t make your prize any smaller or stop you from what you want to do. And this is why the NRL television deal is a positive development for the code. Comparisons to size of the AFL deal or the internal machinations of the TV industry in Australia are side issues – fundamentally, the NRL has a healthy income stream (particularly with pay-TV and further digital rights to come on top of Nine’s $925m), a desirable position in the sports media landscape and a degree of control over itself that it has not had in its recent history. Whether they could have squeezed a few hundred million more out of the deal is less important than what the NRL, which had no money in the bank up until a few years ago, decides what to do with it. And there’s plenty for the leadership of the sport, from David Smith down, to resolve: club grants, the functioning of the salary cap, signing of juniors, the fan experience at games and, perhaps most importantly long-term, player welfare. Look after its own backyard, and see what the NRL might come back with when the next round of media rights comes up.




Circumstances have not been kind to the AFL’s illicit drugs policy. Already facing pressure for reform, the ten-year-old, three-strike, confidentiality ensured regime was tethered to the performance-enhancing spectre by the case of Collingwood’s Lachlan Keeffe and Josh Thomas (pictured above). The pair received two-year bans for testing positive for clenbuterol, a substance banned by the WADA code, which they claimed had been mixed with an illicit drug they had taken. Suddenly, any attempt to look at the illicit drugs policy in the context of actually helping players became secondary – it now becomes part of the hard line (fewer strikes, wider reporting) the AFL pushes as it attempts to clean up its image. There’s been some suggestion that the example made of Keeffe and Thomas will be as effective as any enforcement mechanism. But the AFL, whose policy acknowledged the social and health dimensions of illicit drugs, shouldn’t count on it.


The shock of Australia’s loss in the Ashes, one in hindsight that eminently felt like it could have been won, was always liable to produce some ridiculous reactions. WAG-shaming was the most absurd of them all, an utterly sexist indictment – we lost because our batsmen can’t focus on the swinging ball with their sweethearts around? – that seemed to have been dragged out of a bygone past. Maybe it’s an echo of cricket’s hidebound traditionalism, but this is a contention without much proof to begin with, and is totally out of step with present-day conventions of family life or the demands of international cricket. Whether the WAGs deserve as much attention as they get is a fair question, but being blamed for their partners’ performance is crossing a line. Perhaps we should ask the one Ashes-winning Australian cricket team – that being the women – what their policy is to having the HABs around?


It was one of those inevitable, lesser-of-bad-choices situations, but knowing the 2022 Winter Olympics had to go to Beijing didn’t make it less palatable. The 2008 Summer Olympics host pulls unprecedented double duty, as the world’s media breathed a sigh of relief that it didn’t have to go to Almaty, Kazakhstan, in seven years. So we’re back in the territory of worrying about whether it will snow at the Winter Olympics – Zhangjiakou, the city that will host the ski events and is an hour from Beijing by high-speed train, doesn’t get much snowfall either, which the Chinese are trying to remedy by spending billions on a water diversion program. Recent tremors in China’s economy only add to the unease, as does Brazil’s recession casting a pall over the Rio Games. Perhaps the only good to come out of this bid process would be finally reaching the tipping point – and the good natives of Boston have helped push it along by scuttling their shot at the 2024 Olympics – relating to the excesses of major-event site selection.


There’s a real sense of dread to the IAAF doping scandal, with a familiar aftertaste of cycling’s UCI to it. The claims of Australian experts Michael Ashenden and Robin Parisotto, who reviewed leaked IAAF data that indicated 800 distance runners from 2001 to 2012 had recorded abnormal blood test results, pointed to an organising body that conveniently tolerated a culture of cheating. The IAAF hit back at the allegations, and its new president Sebastian Coe chose to attack the accusers and their “sensationalist” suspicions. Coe and the IAAF won’t be able to rely on that defence for too long – if the recent Worlds in Beijing is any indication, public confidence in the integrity of track and field is trending low, and no amount of inspirational Usain Bolt victories is going to turn that around. Less than a year out from an Olympics, the challenge is before the IAAF, as Ashenden put it, to pursue doping with the same determination that its athletes adopt in their sport.