With the Olympics over, Australia is experiencing a paroxysm of disappointment that we did not win as many medals as last time, a situation somehow considered a failure in light of two things:
- The “fact” that Australia is “good at sport”
- The amount of money we spend on sport
Many are arguing that if we could increase the sums involved at (2) we could prove (1).
Others are calling for restraint, saying we spend more than on sport.
I fall into the second camp. It costs about $100 million a year to rn elite sport in Australia. I’d like to see $100 mllion spent on achieving elite performance in every field of endeavor. For example, I am a journo: where’s my National Institute of Journalism. Where’s the chance for talented young writers to spend years in subsidised accomodation, being tutored by experts and assisted to realise their potential. If the nation gets so much pride from watching our athletes scoop up some disks coated in metal sourced from our nation’s mines, how good would it be to watch us pick up a Pulitzer or two?
The answer to the last question is: not proud at all. Australia generally cares not for intellectual achievement.
And that, I think, explains our obsession with the the Olympics as a leading indicator of national success.
I lived in London in 1999, the year Australian teams came to England and won both the Rugby and Cricket World Cups. I celebrated both drunkenly and boorishly.
The Brits’ response, or at least those I worked with, was that Australia might be rather good at winning things, but the UK had produced Shakespeare. And Wordsworth. And Byron. Oh and there was the small matter of Empire, the modern banking system, the whole fragging age of enlightenment, the most globally-played sports …. and so on.
You get the drift. Britain has given the world and awful lot and, in the eyes of the world, stands for all those things and more.
Australia, I believe, stands for heat, funny and/or dangerous animals, beaches and vastness. None of which are products of our civilisation.
In fact the only products of our civilisation I can think of that people I have met around the world can readily cite are:
- Fosters Lager
- Paul Hogan
- Russel Crowe
- Sporting prowess
Let’s forget the first three. Especially Fosters. Because it seems to me that the main product of Australian civilisation most people can point to is our uncanny knack of producing successful athletes. We define ourselves by being able to do so.
Hence the national panic when our Olympians don’t prove we Still Have It.
Seems to me this is as good a reason as any to actually get serious about National Institutes of Everything Other Than Sport.