The political minefield of good manners in sport

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“The stunning success of the Green Machine must be extremely galling for Barr, Berry and other ministers. For the sake of political appearances, they’ve presumably all felt the need to be seen to be supportive of the Raiders, all the while, one assumes, privately willing them to lose,” writes JON STANHOPE.

I HAVE lately been watching the Rugby World Cup being played in Japan. Sadly, the Wallabies went down in their pool game against Wales. 

Jon Stanhope.

I don’t confess to be a rugby union aficionado but I do watch the game reasonably regularly on TV and traipse off to the Bruce stadium once or twice a year to watch the Brumbies. So I do have some capacity to assess the relative performance of the teams playing. 

Suffice to say, I’m pretty sure any follower, even those with just a smidgin of an understanding of rugby union, would agree that the Wallabies were, particularly in the first half, comprehensively outplayed by Wales and, despite a strong fightback in the second half, could not claw back the lead conceded earlier in the game by their sub-par (in fact awful) performance.

So poor was the Aussie play that I fancy I even heard a wail from the house next door: “Israel, Israel, where are you? Come back. All is forgiven”. Then again, perhaps it was just my imagination.

Despite this, the post-game analysis from the one-eyed Australian commentary team and coach Michael Cheika and captain Michael Hooper was disappointing, to say the least. 

According to them, we were robbed. The better team lost. The referees were incompetent; they clearly didn’t understand the rules. Cheika said he was left completely confused and embarrassed by the ineptitude of the officials. 

There was no acknowledgement of the Welsh victory or that its team played well or deserved the win and should be congratulated. No concession that the Wallabies had let themselves down. There was no apparent interest in observing the usual niceties associated with the conclusion of a sporting contest

The Cheika /Hooper press conference was embarrassing. It was truly appalling. I cannot recall having ever watched a more petulant or ungracious post-game sporting press conference, except perhaps with Canberra’s Nick Kyrgios or Bernard Tomic, each of whom is in a class of his own.

Observing the boorish behaviour of the Wallabies’ coach and captain caused me, for some reason, to reflect on the invariably humble and gracious way in which the All Blacks respond to either winning or losing.

Their humility is all the more impressive since they almost never lose and, as Mac Davis famously sings, it must be hard to be humble when you are perfect in every way. 

However it’s not only the All Blacks but other NZ teams that set the example that I wish all Australian teams would emulate. 

Consider for instance the stunningly gracious response of the NZ cricket team to its dramatic loss to England in the World Cup. Imagine if you can how the Australian cricket team would have responded in a similar situation.

There is clearly in NZ an embedded culture that the Wallabies should be encouraged to adopt, of playing to win and, if successful, acting with humility and generosity, and if unsuccessful, accepting defeat with grace and fortitude. 

As an aside, I was discussing the Wales/Wallabies game with one of my sons and the subject of the disparity between the ranking, performance and behaviour of the Wallabies and the Kangaroos, the national rugby league team, came up. 

My son made the sensible but seditious suggestion that the ARU should open up Wallabies selection to rugby league players. In which event, Josh Papali would without doubt be the first forward selected.

While accepting it is infra dig to mix sport and politics, talking about NZ brings to mind the very real affection and support that NZ and its Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has generated in Australia with regular suggestions that Australia should attempt to engineer a swap of Jacinda Ardern for Scott Morrison. it’s a sentiment I share, but accept is the stuff of dreams. It is equally futile to hope that we in Canberra could swap the angelic Queenslander, Ashleigh Barty for (say) a less alluring home-grown tennis player.

Having innocently strayed into the minefield of sport and politics, I’ll press on by asking everyone to spare a thought for the appalling burden that members of the ACT Labor and Greens parties have been forced to endure over the last couple of months as the Raiders charged to the Grand Final. 

As we all know, Labor and the Greens have engaged over the last three years in a Trump-like vendetta against ClubsACT and the group of clubs, including the Raiders Club, that took the scandalous decision to publicly not support Labor and the Greens at the last election. 

In light of the virulence of the campaign against the Raiders and other clubs, the stunning success of the Green Machine must be extremely galling for Chief Minister Andrew Barr, Sport Minister Yvette Berry and other ministers. They have no doubt presumably all felt, for the sake of political appearances, the need to be seen to be supportive of the Raiders while all the time, one assumes, privately willing them to lose.

If that is the case we can all understand just how difficult the last few weeks must have been for the Government. I am sure the issue has weighed heavily on the Chief Minister who spent the week leading up to the Grand Final on another trip to Singapore and avoided having to participate in or respond to the outpouring of community goodwill and support for the Raiders.

He and his Labor and Greens colleagues deserve our deepest sympathy and understanding at this difficult time for them.

 

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Jon Stanhope
Jon Stanhope was Chief Minister from 2001 to 2011 and represented Ginninderra for the Labor Party from 1998. He is the only Chief Minister to have governed with a majority in the Assembly.

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