Digging for New Lows

Filed in Other by on December 10, 2010

Australian sport has just endured one of its most shameful weekends, a low point in the grand sporting history of this nation. It has been a weekend marked by hypocrisy, grubbiness, favouritism, stupidity and ethical failure. It was the great trough of sportsmanship, the protruding pimple on the pig’s arse, an abject moral crash that should be remembered for time immemorial as the day the train went hurtling from the tracks at high speed off the sheer cliff face and into the abyss.

It is too late for redemption now. Apologies will mean nothing: they are little more than words. Excuses will not be tolerated. Silence will be rightfully treated with contempt. If Australia is to right the wrongs, heads must roll along the road of bones before being mounted in the offices of the Australian Rugby League and Cricket Australia like big game as a permanent and vivid reminder of the day a new base was set for Australian sport.

At no point in time have the moral failings and the hypocrisy of Australian sport been more evident.

Let us start with rugby league.

Australia was soundly beaten by New Zealand in the final of the World Cup. They were outplayed and outhustled by a Kiwi outfit who played with belief and conviction. In the second-half, Australia panicked and New Zealand solidified. There was no shame in the loss. It wouldn’t have occurred on the watch of a better coach like, say, Chris Anderson but that is by the by. A clearly inferior New Zealand team showed up on the night it mattered and defeated a diamond-and-gold Australian team. That is sport. It is played on the fields of battle, not on a piece of paper listing the teams and one team must win and another must lose.

The petulant, manic and wild behaviour of coach Ricky Stuart in the aftermath of the defeat, however, was one of the most disgraceful and insulting tirades by an Australian in the history of international competition. It was a frogmarch lined with venom, bitterness and a refusal to accept personal responsibility for the defeat and it should cost him his position as the head coach of the Australian rugby league team. Ricky Stuart, showing all the class that has come to be associated with him, claimed the Australian team was “stitched up” by tournament organisers, match officials and probably, the Jews. It would surprise nobody if Stuart was a firm believer in the Great Zionist Conspiracy, believing they control the world’s money supply and played a firm hand in the assassination of John Kennedy. Stuart verbally assaulted ARL official Geoff Carr and tournament director Colin Love in the immediate aftermath of the match. The following morning he took the words of his speechwriter Gorden Tallis and confronted referee Ashley Klein and called him a “fucking cheat” as he attempted to physically intimidate the Super League referee. Stuart, after a night’s sleep, deemed it to be a wise idea to confront and verbally rape Ashley Klein in the lobby of the team’s hotel.

That kind of behaviour is hardly becoming of a supposed leader and a representative of Australian rugby league.

The ARL have no choice but to dismiss Stuart immediately. Disregarding the fact Stuart is a proven big-match failure as a coach, having won no legitimate NRL premierships and having led the Kangaroos to their first World Cup loss in 33 years, Stuart has verbally punched in the ear two of his bosses and a referee. It is behaviour that would result in a mouthy little kid getting a wooden spoon around his backside and sent to bed without ice cream. Much has been said by administrators and coaches about the lack of respect some players show for the game by misbehaving off the football field. Nothing any player did this season (aside from those who abandoned the game) left such a dark black eye on the game. Stuart embarrassed himself, the Kangaroos, Australia and the game of rugby league. He cannot possibly keep his job. He needs to be publicly stripped bare, whipped without mercy and thrown to the dogs for being such a shameful representative of the game. Immediately.

The same fate should await the selection panel of the Australian cricket team, Ricky Ponting and Andrew Symonds.

In spite of the insurmountable evidence that indicated that the attitude of Andrew Symonds had not changed from when he was dropped against Bangladesh in August, Symonds was fast-tracked into the Baggy Green for the first Test against New Zealand. He was selected not because he had earned his position through a smorgasbord of first class runs and he was not selected because his efforts at Test level have been exceptional. He was selected because he is a key figure in Cricket Australia’s marketing, he sells tickets, his flair is enjoyed by the selection panel and because he is one of the boys, a favourite of Ponting and his cohorts.

Symonds was selected ahead of Jason Krejza in the first Test, a man who claimed twelve wickets in his debut Test at a time when Australia is crying out for a spin bowler. Despite rallying scores of only 26 and 20 when in both innings he threw away his wicket recklessly and despite bowling only five overs, none of which garnered a wicket, Symonds retained his spot for the second Test. Shane Watson, a cricketer whom I despise but a player whose recent efforts would suggest he is more deserving of a spot in the Test team than Symonds, was dropped to make way for the return of Krejza.

Symonds repaid the faith of his bidders by getting on the old pigs ear on Sunday night. A Kangaroo player labelled Symonds “loud and intoxicated”, quite an assertion coming from a member of the rugby league fraternity. Symonds claimed to have changed, to have dealt with his problems. He clearly hasn’t, remaining an abrasive, arrogant and ungrateful character who believes he is deserving of much more than he actually is.

Few are surprised. His performances for Queensland suggest he remains ambivalent about the sport and his team-mates. A number of those team-mates privately warned that Symonds had not changed one iota. Many in the media forecast that Symonds was not ready to return to national duty. Any psychologist worth their licence will tell you that those with deep-seated psychological and behavioural issues aren’t going to solve them in a few lousy weeks, particularly when they offer no contrition or genuine remorse for their actions. Yet Symonds was recalled.

All those who slammed the decision to recall Symonds were proven correct by his inept performance at the Gabba and by his disrespectful behaviour on Sunday evening.

Symonds, however, will most likely avoid punishment. He is a protected species. Where his careless style would be criticised in any other player, it is cast as unquenchable flair with Symonds. His recklessness is justified, by himself and the selectors, because he is never held to account. He should be dropped for both his inept performances and his disrespect of cricket and the Baggy Green. His head should roll and his tag of favourite son should be removed. He won’t be, however, as Symonds has Ponting and the selection panel in a trance.

While Andrew Symonds will line up for Australia in Adelaide, Stuart Clark will most likely carry the drinks. Clark isn’t a flashy player and he isn’t a personality who fits into the inner-circle of the Australian team. Like Stuart MacGill and Brad Hodge and for a long time Simon Katich, Clark has become a victim of his own intelligence, wit and difference. He is set to be dropped, as he was in Nagpur and as he was in Bangladesh in 2006 after a stunning tour of South Africa. Despite claiming six wickets in Brisbane and being rated Australia’s number one bowler in the ICC rankings, Clark is almost certain to be replaced by Peter Siddle under Australia’s new “horses for courses” policy.

Of course, this policy will not extend across the entire team. It will be a policy used to justify the dropping of quality players who don’t fit the personality types wanted by Ponting or the selection panel or the Cricket Australia marketing department.

Will Brett Lee be dropped for Adelaide having taken only 17 wickets at 36.23 with no five wicket hauls at the ground? Will he be dropped against South Africa, a country that has netted him only six wickets in two Tests? Certainly not, on both counts.

Andrew Symonds averages only 19.5 with the bat and 41.66 with the ball at Adelaide yet his spot seems fairly secure despite the fact he is not a horse with a good record at the course.

Matthew Hayden has an average of only 26.88 over his last five Tests yet he won’t be getting dropped anytime soon.

Brad Hodge has a Test average of over 55 and in Perth against South Africa scored 41 and 203 not out. Will he be shipped immediately into the Australian top six? Doubtful.

There must surely be plenty of disheartened cricketers in and on the fringes of the Australian cricket team with such a blatantly discriminatory selection policy.

These are dark days for Australian sport. A national coach is paralysed by his own stupidity, a deep believer in conspiracy theories, while the selection panel of our national game continues to play favourites, rewarding the undeserving while punishing the hard-working. How low can we get? At this point, anything is possible.

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