It’s Soft Down Under: Australians Ban Aggression In Sport
THE Australian Olympic Committee has not hung up its woggles and decided they can no longer compete with the Poms, who scored 29 golds at the London Games to Australia’s 7 (a tally bettered by mighty Hungary and matched by sports mad Kazakhstan).
Once upon a time, the Aussies ruled the world at sports that very few countries play (cricket and rugby) or understand (Aussie rules football), as our Ed Barrett wrote.
They still love to beat the Poms, relishing the old humiliation over the English cricket team dragged over a long hot summer. But now even the ritual slaughter of the Gabba accompanied of the sound of delirious, blood-crazed Aussie mobs is thing of the past.
Why do they take such pleasure in thrashing us? It all comes down to a fundamental misunderstanding. Australians assume that we Brits feel the same way as they do about the Ashes and rugger. They see the ‘Barmy Army’ in full cry and assume that these lads are just the tip of a huge iceberg. They see full houses at Ashes Tests in England, and imagine that we really care. Nothing could be further from the truth.
For most of us, the men in baggy greens are little more than a curiosity, like the Harlem Globetrotters or the World’s Strongest Man. With the exception of a few thousand Asian kids in Bradford, virtually nobody in this country under the age of 40 is interested in watching cricket, let alone playing it. When Shane Warne – one of the five greatest players of all time – played for Hampshire, he was paid for a whole season what a top Premiership footballer would earn in a couple of weeks.
Australians, like Americans, tend to concentrate on the games that others avoid.
Australians can’t even master the basic pub games.
Rugby Union may be more popular than cricket, but it is a marginal recreation outside the southern hemisphere. Rugby League (or ‘football’ as the Australians insist on calling it) is an even more peripheral sport than Union in global terms.
Soccer in Australia, on the other hand, is largely restricted to immigrants, and decent players move to Europe in order to ply their trade. Australian boxers spend most of their time fighting kangaroos, and have consequently made no significant impact abroad. Their best-known pugilist is ‘Aussie Joe’ Bugner, the Hungarian-Brit who went to earn a living out there once his days as a serious fighter were over.
It’s a curious fact that, for all their macho posturing, many Australian men are drawn to tennis, swimming, and other girls’ sports that most Englishmen wouldn’t touch with a bargepole. One need only consider their preposterous ‘Aussie rules’ game, with its tight shorts and boob tubes, to see that something strange is going on. But then the British show a passing interest in those games and tonk the Aussies.
‘What about Australia’s legendary drinking culture?’ I hear you say. ‘What about David Boon’s 52 cans on the plane in ’89?’ Well, given that Australian ale bears about as much relation to the real thing as does American root beer, one wonders why they made such a fuss about it.
Yet despite the weakness of their booze, Australians can’t even master the basic pub games. Darts? With the exception of Tony David’s shock win at the Embassy world championships in 2002, the Australian arrows invariably fall short. Pool? Let’s just say that Australians are conspicuous by their absence in the game’s upper echelons, despite the fact that more than 30 percent claim to play ‘cue-based sports’. And as for barroom brawling, forget it. Those humorous ‘No Fighting’ signs on pub walls are purely for the benefit of the tourists.
Photo: (L-R) Australia’s Greg Ritchie, David Boon, Jeff Thomson and Craig McDermott (back) help to load the first shipment of barrels of Australian lager Castlemaine XXXX onto a horse-drawn dray for delivery to a London pub. Date: 15/05/1985
But Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates has a plan. He wants the London Games in 2012 to be a blip. He’s drawn up a new set or rules for Aussie Olympians. He says: “These restrictions have been implemented to ensure that Australia’s Olympic athletes are given the opportunity to compete to the best of their ability and with distinction.”
Athletes will be barred from the Olympic Village is they are: “Argumentative; bad tempered, aggressive or using offensive language; swaying, staggering or falling down; speech which is loud and boisterous; having rambling conversations; having difficulty in paying attention or comprehending others, and annoying fellow team members”.
Good luck with that. No more boasting and bragging. To think the Australians felt a need to enshrine that in law…