THE deaths of three great Australian sports people in the past 10 days - Les Murray, Mervyn Rose and Betty Cuthbert; a quote from the veteran Fairfax journalist and rugby league coach, Roy Masters, and the end of the worst industrial confrontation in Australian cricket has prompted discussion about where sport is headed in our nation and is it the right path. In one of his finest articles, Masters wrote: “The brutal negotiations between CA and the ACA and the stratospheric salaries paid, has produced the perception that Australia’s favourite summer pastime is now more of a business than a sport”.
“By contrast, the inept leadership of the ARU by former NAB chief executive Cameron Clyne, in failing to cull an Australian Super Rugby team has pushed the code back to its roots. Rugby people now prefer to stroll down to a suburban oval to watch a game between amateur teams”.
Masters is critical of the manic desire by sports to recruit top business people and in the rush to do so “have neglected what might be called the affection and affinity for a sport”. This column recently alluded to a similar affliction in Australian cricket in the past 20 years. Retired Australian athlete, Jan Flemming, reflecting on the great contribution by Cuthbert not only to sport but to the community and especially to sufferers of MS, from which she died, recalled Cuthbert reached sports fame in an era when there was no sports academies, technical and computerised “coaching” was non-existent; good sportsmanship and gracious losers abounded; and, winners were mostly humble and courteous.
Masters again: “What might work in the corporate world doesn’t necessarily translate to the world of sport”.
Masters warned, too, about the Australian Olympic movement following the professional codes and sports down the same corporate path, “installing businessmen with no elite experience in a sport as chairperson.”
Good judges regard Wagga’s Stan Sly (right hand) and Cootamundra’s Max Rudd (left) as the two best ever batsman to have played in the Riverina, more recent test players included; Sly was adamant cricket was a “character building sport”; he would be appalled by how the sport has deteriorated in that regard, although it is not the worst.
Masters said at a function at the Wagga Leagues Club as far back as when your scribe was covering rugby league for The DA that, highly paid players spent a maximum of 10 hours a week training and playing. Therein lies a solution to the problem professional sports people find themselves in today - too much money, too much leisure time and no proper job.
The respected US sports writer, Heywood Broun, put Sly’s quote differently: “Sports do not build character. They reveal it.” Instead of wasting thousands of hours discussing what Australians do within the confines of their bedrooms (which is really none of their business) our politicians might consider how greedy businesses, and corporates get to amass so much money they can splurge on sports sponsorship. That and addressing the business shenanigans of the major banks and the obscene profits they make should be the real game.
More importantly today - Vale, Les Murray, Mervyn Rose and the incomparable Betty Cuthbert. To them – “Gold, gold, gold”, to borrow Norman May’s great line; and another from the great Indian allrounder, Kapil Dev: “Apart from education, you need good health and for that, you need to play sports”.