Cancelling strange British Empire legacy event just Aussie common sense

Jul 21, 2023
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews (2nd right) speaks to media during a press conference at Parliament House in Melbourne, Tuesday, July 18, 2023. The Andrews Labor Government has cancelled the 2026 Commonwealth Games, slated to be held across Victoria. Image:AAP/James Ross

Elite sport is something of a sacred cow. To criticise it is to risk being considered unAustralian. So while Premier Andrews’ announcement that Victoria would not host the 2026 Commonwealth Games was not a wholesale critique of elite sport, I am happy to take up the baton.

While Premier Andrews’ announcement that Victoria would not host the 2026 Commonwealth Games was not a wholesale critique of elite sport, I am happy to take up the baton.

Mr Hacker, naive subject of the Yes! Minister and Yes! Prime Minister stories learnt from bitter experience that there was an ambivalence attached to an action described as ‘courageous’. While Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said that his decision to abandon the Commonwealth Games was not one of the more difficult ones he has taken, the reaction by some vested interests has meant that he had to be prepared to withstand criticism.

Any political leader worthy of the name must be prepared to take decisions which might be initially unpopular. Essentially this is a defining characteristic of leadership. If all your decisions are popular, there is a good chance that you have sniffed the political breeze and followed the crowd rather than taken a leading role. Daniel Andrews showed during the Covid epidemic that he is a leader rather than a follower of fashions. He does what he considers to be right rather than what others tell him will be popular.

Andrews endured criticism from media and from vested interests during the lockdowns and is no doubt applying lessons he learnt then to the fuss over abandonment of the Games. He has shown consistently that he regards his first responsibility to the state of Victoria as a whole. Any good manager would take this decision rather than cripple the budget and social spending. While some critics might lament the decision as a change of mind, it is likely that many cost and budgetary facts have come to light only after the original commitment was made. We should respect and admire people who are able to examine the facts and change their positions accordingly.

When the critics are lined up, it is not surprising to find that the main complainants are people who would profit financially from the diversion of public money into private hands. Channel 7 is outraged as could be predicted.

The other people to be directly affected are the players of elite sports. Certainly, athletes have a right to be disappointed. After all, they train and bring themselves to a peak to coincide with key events. These people deserve our sympathy but there is always a balance to be found.

Elite sport has become far too powerful. Consider the Tasmanian Government’s willingness to spend billions on a stadium to suit the administration of the AFL while social housing falls short of need. Apparently the ardent wishes of the Tasmanian people was not enough to convince the AFL that Tasmania should have a team in the big league.

Let’s not beat around the bush here. Whether it is rugby league, Australian Rules, soccer, netball, tennis, cricket or another sport, local and junior levels have been impoverished by the establishment of countrywide competitions. If you cast your mind back, you will remember – for example – that Melbourne had a thriving AFL competition. It could not be left that way however because media – tv especially – saw a potential nationwide market going to waste.

Of course, administrators and media moguls pitched the changes as spreading the game. To an extent it has achieved this but really, its priority always was to establish franchises. The desertion of local clubs is reflected in the said franchises abandoning local names. The clubs all have mascots and the Eels, Tigers, Sharks and Swans can therefore capture audiences around the country and their merchandise has a broad market.

Simultaneously, local, junior and amateur players complain constantly that the costs of playing have risen. Insurance and registration with state and national administrations have crippled some clubs.

Elite sport is something of a sacred cow. To criticise it is to risk being considered unAustralian. Yet our supporter culture is quite pathetic. We compare poorly with the Welsh choirs, the Kiwi haka and Irish fans singing Fields of Athenry while ignorant local commentators lead ‘Ossie Ossie Oy Oy Oy’ to drown them out. So many ‘stars’ have been involved in allegations of domestic violence, you wonder about the values being transmitted. And of late, gambling has become embedded in television coverage which always had close connections with alcohol advertising.

It is also worth pondering the contribution of elite sport to the national carbon footprint. Apart from the motor racing which barely deserves the name of sport, every weekend players criss-cross Australia by air for home and away matches. Local leagues and competitions would be much more economical in every way. Besides, the demands of television that elite matches be positioned in night time schedules means that lighting is used needlessly.

Premier Daniel Andrews has brought a degree of reality into our relationship with elite sport.

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