Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What is smoggin' wrong!?

The case of Aussie athletes sitting out the Olympic opening ceremony is a curious one. Well, I say athletes when I mean a bunch of officials forcing them to sit at Hong Kong and fly in for their events instead of marching in the ceremony.

It's long been tradition to miss the opening ceremony if you have an event early the next morning, and that makes sense. Who wants to be standing on their feet for ten hours when you have to be gunning for gold the next day?

But this marks the first time that Australian athletes will sit out the ceremony for health concerns. They're (again, I mean the officials) are concerned smog levels in the city will affect their performance, so much so that they'd rather have athletes fly in for their events.

Correct me if I'm wrong here, but isn't the pinnacle of sporting achievement supposed to be participating in the Olympic games?

Of course, Beijing officials are furious, and I'm sure carefully worded letters will be sent to Canberra over the next weeks. The question is, do officials from the AOC have the right to determine the Olympic experience for athletes?

It's a pretty tough call to make, and one that will be justified if the athletes give good performances, but this points to a darker side of Australian sport, and Australian culture at large.

Ever since the Australia II sailed into Fremantle and Bob declared "any boss who gives a worker the sack because they don't come in tomorrow is a bum", we've relished in sporting success and the underdog tag.

We've always been the colonials trying to mix it up with big boys on the stage, and when we've won, well, it's been a product of Aussie ingenuity and guts.

Even when Steven Bradbury....somehow (by 'somehow', I mean everybody else fell over) won at Nagano, we rationalised the win by saying things like 'good on him, it took guts to make it that far'.

Look at the Australian Cricket team. Is the more no more poignant social baramoter of our culture than the colonials beating the masters at their own game again, and again, and again, and again?

We love it when our teams and athletes win, we see it as a vindication of our national character and our willingness to 'give it a go', but much like our cricket team, we really revel in dominance and the dark edge that can bring.

There is an ingrained culture in Australian sport to win at all costs, heck, bowl underarm if need be! AIS funding is tied into the results various sports achieve, so while Rugby Union may receive big ol' chunks of development money, Volleyball can only navel gaze from way up in the air.

It seems that winning on the world stage at games has become the way of proving our worth as a nation, and our individual character. So the latest move from the AOC should come as no great shock.

You see, the AOC have been looking over their shoulder as teams like Germany France and England eye the fourth spot on the Olympic medals table. They've expressed concern that the tradition of doing better at every Olympics, may be under threat in Beijing.

We can't go backwards! It's unheard of! Our coat of arms doesn't go backward!

So the move to base in Hong Kong instead of attending the opening ceremony isn't just for protecting our athletes, it's for protecting our medal position, and protecting the great Aussie dream.

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