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Why sport is important

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Motto of the National Aboriginal Sporting Chance Academy (Image via nasca.org.au)

Following some comments on my new regular sports column, the editor asked me recently to outline my thoughts on why we should be covering sport on IA.

I'VE ALREADY HAD several goes at this and have already written five thousand words on the topic, and since the recommended article length on IA is 700 to 1,200 words, clearly all of that can’t go in.

So I’ve distilled what I feel are the crucial points.

The tenor of some of the comments to sport articles have been that sport is too commercial and should be cast out into the wastelands because of this.

Man, do I agree with that!

I’ve done two articles myself along those lines — one about the Sochi Winter Olympics, and the other about alcohol advertising in sport.

I hate the gross commercialisation of sport, but bear with me and I’ll explain what brought me back to it.

In the summer of 2000, I met and fell in love with an American woman from California. We were together for a short period of time, a month or so, but in that time I fell for her “like a man with no parachute”, as Ben Elton put it so admirably in one of his novels.

Then she went off with another man, leaving me devastated beyond words.

I quit my job. I just couldn’t bring my mind to bear on anything like work when my world had fallen apart. I then was faced with hanging around my cockroach-ridden share house in Sydney’s inner west.

The hours of each day stretched before me like the Atacama Desert.

I was (thankfully) going through a non-drinking phase, as I continued my lifelong battle with the bottle, so I didn’t even have the bad solution of drinking to sustain me.

Instead. I began turning on the TV in the morning, to try to distract my mind. A long shot at best, as you don’t need me telling you what a bloody wasteland of moronity is morning TV.

However, one morning I slouched down to the living room, switched on the set and a Test cricket match came on. I had played cricket as a boy and had followed it in desultory fashion since, and so with literally nothing else to do, I began watching.

It had a curiously stabilising effect on my psyche, now I had some minor, infinitely small thing to do to distract my mind from thinking about her — the woman who had left me.

So I became hooked again and, while that oh-so-slow-paced sport played out on the screen, I had something to “do”. I watched through the day and thus cricket was a major saviour in my life. That match got me through the critical first few days and then the rest of the summer, after my dumping without recourse to alcohol.

When that game finished, I eagerly examined the TV guide looking for the next. It duly arrived, and I then spent the summer with cricket.

However, I quickly became more than dissatisfied with those boneheads who commentate for channel Nine, and the commercials on the broadcast. These two things really were destroying my new found enjoyment of cricket, but I was stuck for a solution.

However, not long after that I got a new job and, like so many Australians (mostly men) I then had to find a way to follow the cricket at work.

And so ABC radio came into my life.

I would sit at my computer ostensibly debugging thousands of line of computer code, whilst in reality I was listening to the ABC broadcast of the game through a discreetly placed ear piece.

And then the planets lined up for me.

One day, I was following the cricket on a Saturday and I realised that I could watch the pictures of channel Nine, without sound and listen to the ABC’s brilliant commentary.

My world was complete.

And this is why you’re reading this here and not on my blog, which it may seem more suited to.

For I saw, in word and picture, how sport should be covered — without ads.

But while cricket had returned to my heart, the two largest, in terms of commercial TV coverage, football codes – rugby league and Aussie rules – hadn’t.

As a died-in-blue New South Welshman, I had mainly followed rugby league as a boy and a little Aussie rules.

However, I lost a lot of interest when two of my favourite rugby league players – Bobby Fulton (who had retired and went as coach) and Noel “Crusher” Cleal – transferred from my team, Easts (now known as the Sydney Roosters) to the hated Manly-Warringah.

On a personal level, I saw this as some sort of betrayal of my belief in them, but more broadly it signalled the end of local representation in rugby league. Formerly, you came through the juniors in your local area, then played A-grade for the senior team — if you were good enough.

These two transfers signalled – to me, anyway – that now players would play for whoever paid the most. While playing for whoever you want is of course the player’s choice, it did mean now that your local first grade team was increasingly represented by players you had never heard of.

Additionally, some real ugly attitudes began to loom closer to the surface: drunkenness, appalling behaviour, sexism and racism.

For all these reasons, I had little or nothing to do with these football codes for a long time.

And I’ll quickly interject, as an amateur soccer player, I’m afraid to report I exhibited plenty of sexism and drunkenness back then. Thankfully, that’s gone now with my new sober lifestyle.

However out of the above mentioned badness came an almighty good, led by the appropriately named Adam Goodes.

Goodes is an Indigenous Aussie rules player with the Sydney Swans. He is also the current Australian of the Year — an accolade given him due to his stand on racism, particularly with the: 'Racism. It Stops with me' campaign.

And that all started at an Aussie rules match.

Sydney were playing Collingwood, and a thirteen-year-old female Collingwood supporter abused Goodes during the match, and sadly, she abused him in a racist fashion. Goodes stopped playing, went over and called security.

He made a big deal out of the incident and was roundly criticised for this by some conservative media — Miranda Devine, mainly.

The spectator allegedly called Goodes an “ape”, and Goodes said of the slur that “he was gutted.” Thankfully the AFL under then head Andrew Demetriou backed Goodes and this led to the AFL making a strong stand on racism.

So I then returned to football and began to take on interest in AFL again. I support the Sydney Swans, by the way.

Yes, there is plenty bad about sport and the way it’s covered in this country — but as I hope I’ve shown, there is good in there as well.

Sport can be covered without advertising driving us mad.

A major step forward in the fight against racism in this country came through sport.

So that’s two good enough reasons for covering sport here at IA.

We spend most of our time here on IA calling governments, of all stripe, to account — but even we can enjoy some sport when Saturday comes.

Lachlan Barker blogs at cyclonecharlie88.blogspot.com.au. You can follow him on Twitter@cyclonecharlie88.

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