There has been an outpouring of financial assistance from the Australian sporting community to aid those affected by bushfires, writes William Olson.
THE ONGOING SAGA of the bushfires enveloping those in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia has been at the forefront of all Australians’ hearts and minds this summer, with an earlier-than-usual start to the heart of the bushfire season happening as well.
The epidemic of record-breaking devastation is at such a level at present that, most likely, anyone who one speaks with probably – either directly or indirectly via some “six degrees of separation” connection – knows something tangible, a person or thing, that has been affected in any way, shape or form.
As I am writing this, I am looking out a window of a VLine train at the smoke haze from the Gippsland bushfires having come all the way across Port Phillip Bay and into the Geelong region. And that haze is as thick as a pea soup, a reference normally reserved to describe a thick fog over that bay.
There is no escaping any reference or impact of the season’s fires. And for anyone who has been affected, my heart goes out to you. Because this is all about loss — loss of life, loss of property, loss of lifestyle, loss of peace of mind and that cannot be easy for anyone.
Meanwhile, just as monumental of an angle related to the bushfires story has been Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s perceived – and real – lack of attention to the fires and those affected by them and how that translates to his leadership role, not only in the highest office of the land but in leading the LNP as well.
Morrison, since he took office after the last LNP spill in August 2018 and winning what he termed as a “miracle” of an election last May, has tried to show Australia, in one stunt after another, that he is a “man of the people” and trying to fashion himself as “Australia’s favourite bogan” while attempting to take on the duties of his position.
Aside from fronting the LNP’s platforms on climate policy – which includes the party’s relationship with the coal lobby and seemingly-endless statements on the effects of climate change, its role in the season’s bushfires and the outright denial of climate change by some factions within the party – Morrison’s commitment to leadership of the party and the nation has come (if you'll pardon the pun) under fire.
Taking off for a previously-booked family holiday to Hawaii just before Christmas while the NSW and Adelaide Hills fires burned actually brought these into question and ultimately did not endear him to the masses when he returned, in his attempts to convince the Australian people that he cares about what’s happening to them. And this past week, while attempting in vain to appease those directly affected, he’s just encountered the worst things that could happen to a lifetime marketing man: the public is reading right through his spin and product positioning.
Note that a lot of Morrison’s positioning of his Prime Ministerial brand, in and around his stunts, has him at a variety of sporting events, ranging from running out water bottles at rugby matches or swilling beer from the cheap seats, because these make him appear to be that “man of the people”. However, when it is time to show actual leadership, the opposite actually occurs: he is exposed as an elitist run-of-the-mill politician who cannot read what people are feeling, experiencing and suffering.
Compassion is required from a man in his position and if he really did pay $190,000 to get advice from an empathy coach, he should ask for a full refund on behalf of the Australian public. Especially if it was taxpayer money which paid for it, because it’s not working. The people are reading right through him and his antics.
In fact, for a man who identifies so much through sport, a growing number of athletes are showing more leadership than Morrison has done to rally support for firefighters, volunteers and others, battling to bring the blazes under control.
While organisations such as the CFA, RFS and others have been struggling to maintain federal funding for their efforts, vehicles, supplies, food and drink and so forth, a growing number of elite athletes have rallied behind the cause.
A few examples:
- Cricketers Glenn Maxwell of the Melbourne Stars and the Brisbane Heat’s Chris Lynn, arguably the two most exciting players in the T20 Big Bash League, have been engaging in a friendly “Twitter war” to see who can hit more sixes, of which $250 will be donated to the Red Cross Bushfire Appeal for each white ball hit over the ropes during the current tournament.
- American basketballer LaMelo Ball, playing in the NBL for the Illawarra Hawks, likely for just one season as he is expected to play next year in the NBA, will devote his salary for the month of January to a variety of bushfire relief charities. This is happening in spite of the fact that Ball has missed the last several games with the Hawks through injury.
- After Nick Kyrgios – the headline maker in Australian tennis and not always in a good way – has pledged to donate $200 for every service ace he hits during the “summer of tennis” through the Australian Open, many of his peers and the national sport’s governing body, Tennis Australia, have joined him in matching those pledges.
- On the heels of Kyrgios’s spearheaded donations, Tennis Australia will be staging a one-day “Rally For Relief” exhibition event at Rod Laver Arena on 15 January.
- And Melbourne’s three A-League clubs – Melbourne Victory, Melbourne City and Western United – have banded together to contribute $2 for every match ticket sold to the Bushfire Disaster Appeal for last weekend’s matches.
And that’s just since last Friday.
Undoubtedly, other athletes and sporting codes and organisations will follow suit, regardless of whether they are in international, domestic, or local competitions. Collectively, this represents a great display of leadership from the front.
So, to put it in perspective, if Nick Kyrgios, with all the baggage that he carries onto the court and the reputation of his volatile behaviour greater than his achievements, is exhibiting more leadership in the bushfire crisis than that of the Prime Minister and the LNP, then someone needs to lift their game in this regard. And it’s not Kyrgios.
Support independent journalism Subscribe to IA.