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The Great Australian Sports Crisis of 2013

By Mike Hytner on August 16, 2013 in Other

Photo: Robbie Deans

Photo: Robbie Deans

As an outsider looking in, Australian sport seems to be in the tight grip of a bona fide crisis. The descent towards calamity can probably be traced back to a shambolic showing at last year’s Olympics in London, where the country’s worst medal haul since 1992 prompted all sorts of accusations, admissions and apologies. Talk of a general decline though was not confirmed until January this year, when Australia – ranked one in the world – lost a netball series for the first ever time to England. How could a once proud nation ever recover from a setback as damaging as that?

Well, things got even worse a month later when grim-faced leaders of the nation’s major sports stood on a stage as the “blackest day in Australian sport” was announced off the back of an Australian Crime Commission report that revealed performance enhancing drugs, match fixing and ties with the criminal underworld were rife throughout.

While investigations continue into that piffling matter, Australian cricket has suffered something of a meltdown in the post-Ponting era, with some frankly comical performances on the pitch being matched by off-field shenanigans that would not look out of place alongside the incessant stream of NRL and AFL players’ misdemeanours. Add into the mix a television station expressing a desire to take over team selection, the government fast-tracking citizenship applications in a bid to plug a gaping Shane Warne-sized hole in the line-up and the head coach’s sacking just sixteen days prior to the start of the Ashes series, and preparation for such a crucial series could hardly have been less ideal.

Even the more genteel (traditionally, at least) sport of rugby union has not been immune to the recent Australian malaise. The build-up to the Wallabies’ series against the British & Irish Lions was hardly controversy-free and the result was a further blow to a country quickly becoming accustomed to failure. As for the tennis, let’s not even go there. When a nation’s hopes rest upon the shoulders of a player nicknamed Tomic the Tank Engine, further words aren’t necessary.

The Socceroos threatened to begin some kind of Great Aussie Fightback by qualifying for a third consecutive World Cup with victory over Iraq in Sydney, and their success appeared to briefly inspire the Wallabies. But the wheels soon fell off once again. An absolute mauling by the Lions at the same venue firmly put the Aussies back in their place, which is a rather uncomfortable one.

All of which, I imagine, is as depressing for Aussie sports fans as it is hilarious for us smug Pommies who are inclined to cheer an Aussie failure just as loudly as a (rare) English success. For the record, I am not one of that breed, no matter how easy the target is. And Australia is indeed an easy target at the moment, especially for a Pom living amongst it all. The reason for not jumping on that particular bandwagon is because I know it can change at any moment, such are the vagaries of sport. In other words, I live in fear. But also in hope; hope that once the natural order of things is restored – and Australia rules the sporting world again – karma will work its magic and I won’t become a target for verbal bashing when we are rubbish again at the Olympics, fail to qualify for the World Cup, lose the Ashes, no longer have a Grand Slam tennis champion (come on, he’s British – we’ll take him under the rules of the Theory of Selective Nationality!) and so on.

Next up on the road to recovery is the Ashes, which will have started by the time you read this. There is no way of looking into the future (oh, to have a copy of Grays Sports Almanac) but form, world rankings, location and preparation are all against the Baggy Greens as they head into the series. Can they steady the ship and get Australian sport sailing back towards calmer waters? It’s a nice thought, but don’t bet on it just yet.