I’m not a jo fan, but this article is quite succinct.
Would our nation be more honourable if John Howard had a better succession plan?
I wasn’t sure if this should be under cricket, politics or other sports. Please feel free to move it where you like.
Author Jo Hildenbrand (sorry for spelling)
IT IS no exaggeration to say Australia as a nation has been left reeling over the ball tampering scandal that has engulfed the cricketing world and cost both the captain and vice-captain their jobs.
For reasons that are difficult to grasp — and indeed which the captain himself clearly failed to grasp when he almost breezily confessed to the sin and expected to escape unscathed — it has torn the national fabric asunder.
It has been condemned by the prime minister, raised by international dignitaries with the foreign minister and generated more front page news than most terrorist attacks.
In a world that is beset by countless atrocities every single day, the act of a rookie batsman fiddling with the ball — a practice that is hardly unprecedented — has somehow turned the nation’s stomach. Even I, a cynical old hack with only a passing interest in the game, felt myself sickened.
But why did I care? I asked myself. Why did Malcolm Turnbull? Why did a little piece of sandpaper so scrape the national soul? Why did it shock us so much?
And that’s when I realised the true problem: It didn’t actually shock us at all. It only confirmed our darkest fear.
We like to tell ourselves that we are the land of the fair go, but the truth is Australia is a nation of cheats.
If the cricket scandal hadn’t broken on the weekend, the biggest sports story splashed across the Monday papers would have been the Manly Sea Eagles being busted for breaching the salary cap, which came just two years after Parramatta was exposed in an even worse salary cap scandal.
And lest the southern states want to scoff at their bogan neighbours to the north, let’s not forget the worst salary cap scandal of them all happened only a few years earlier when Melbourne Storm had to be stripped of not one but two premierships.
And lest the cricketers want to scoff at the footy players, let’s not forget that their last foray into the front of the paper was a near punch-on in the sheds after a dirty sledging exchange.
And it was only five years ago that my own beloved Essendon Bombers were busted injecting their players with peptides. I mean seriously, WTF?
So there you have it, the three biggest professional sports in Australia smashed by industrial-scale top-down cheating scandals in just the last few years.
And what about our other great national prides? Tennis? Our biggest star is accused of throwing matches. Horse racing? The trainer of the great Black Caviar gets banned for too much cobalt on another horse. Swimming? Well, at least the Stilnox wasn’t performance enhancing.
But the worst part is it doesn’t even end with sport. Indeed, if anything our dodgy sportsmen are only following the example set by the leaders of our nation itself.
John Howard used to joke that being the Australian prime minister was the second most important job in the country. The most important was the captain of the Australian cricket team.
It was a comment strangely both idyllic and cynical. In part it was a reflection of the Liberal ideal that the primary job of a politician is to get out of the way so ordinary citizens can pursue their private enterprise from Monday to Friday and enjoy their well-earned sporting life on the weekend.
It was also, I have no doubt, a reflection on Neville Wran’s more crude but equally sanguine observation: “You get nothing in the Labor Party without getting up to your armpits in blood and sh**.”
Politics, as Howard well knew, was by nature a dirty business. And politicians were therefore inevitably compromised — even when they held the highest political office in the land.
The captain of the Australian cricket team, however, had no such caveats to his honour. There was no ideological counterpoint, no cricketing leader of the opposition whose job it was to undermine him, nor any moral swamp he had to wade through. And once he arrived in the role there were no competing teams or competing codes. He was a symbol of unity and purity for the entire nation.
So what went wrong? How could the Australian Test side, a group of golden boys literally cloaked in white, possibly get the idea that it was okay to cut corners, plot conspiracies and put your comrades in the dock just so you could win a contest that you probably would have won anyway?
Again, Howard holds the answer. But this time it’s accidental, because Howard was the last Australian prime minister not to be knifed by his own party — assuming that Malcolm Turnbull is now only one Newspoll away from sharing the fate of his three predecessors.
We talk about the toxic culture of winning at all costs with no regard for fairness and yet every PM of the past decade has been felled and installed by virtue of dodgy deal and a short cut. No election, no fairness, no point of principle or gentlemen’s rules, just stabbed in the back in the dead of night.
Over the many decades since World War II, which is pretty much the totality of what we now take for granted as Australia’s two-party democracy, parties were expected to take their policies to the people for judgment. Politics was tough but fair.
Even the Dismissal of 1975, which was done in complete accordance with the Constitution, was met with howls of outrage and condemnation and nationwide protests because it was not the done thing.
Yet now it has become completely accepted — indeed expected — to kill off a first term prime minister just because things have got a bit rough or if there is simply someone more ruthless waiting in the wings. We condemn cheating on the sports field where the results are ultimately meaningless and yet when it comes to the highest office in the land we don’t just condone cheating, we reward it.
Even the national debates we have about policy are now deliberately driven by personal attacks and misinformation. Australia’s last chief scientist Ian Chubb this week lamented that there was no integrity left in politics or political debate.
As an example he cited the public discussion about Labor’s dividend tax policy and noted that even he, a bloke whose job description was basically to be the smartest bloke in Australia, was unable to understand it because the debate was so contaminated by mistruths that even the basic facts couldn’t be agreed upon.
And while Labor deserves credit for having the guts to release this and its negative gearing reforms and discuss these big policy ideas, few election tactics have been more dishonest than its disgraceful “Medi-scare” campaign which attempted to convince voters the government had a secret plan to sell off Australia’s public health system.
Head coach of the Australia cricket team Darren Lehmann announced his resignation in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal. Picture: Wikus De Wet/AFP
Head coach of the Australia cricket team Darren Lehmann announced his resignation in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal. Picture: Wikus De Wet/AFPSource:AFP
And this is the problem with cheating — once someone does it, everyone does it. For how can a cheater possibly protest when others do the same thing? Just as David Warner’s previous comments about ball-tampering have come back to haunt him, a political leader who rises without legitimacy is all the more easily brought undone.
How could Julia Gillard cry foul at Kevin Rudd’s destabilisation of her when she was the one who first knifed him? How could Tony Abbott complain of Malcolm Turnbull rolling him when he rolled Turnbull first? And how can Turnbull complain about Abbott campaigning against him now?
It only takes one breach of the rules for the whole rule book to be torn up. For a boat to float every plank of wood must be carefully sealed together, for it to sink it only takes one hole. Both parties have been shooting at the deck for years.
And so Australians have been witnessing a win-at-all-costs, whatever-it-takes, principle-free approach to the prime ministership for a decade. And no matter who they voted for or how they expressed their anger at the ballot box the same thing kept happening.
But at least, as John Howard said, this was only the second highest office in the land. At least this toxic culture hadn’t crept up to the tallest ivory tower, the one national role we could all still believe in, the one person who we could all agree deserved our respect and trust and support: The captain of the Australian cricket team.
And then, of course, it did. And our nation just lost its sh**.
So no, it wasn’t a shock, it wasn’t even a surprise. It was the just the final straw.
And, worse still, it was caught on camera for the whole world to see. The shame of what we had tolerated for so long had been utterly exposed, and ourselves humiliated in the process.
If we want to fix what’s wrong with Australian cricket we don’t just need to change the captain or the coach, we need to change our whole national culture. A culture that for too long has mistaken insults for arguments, treachery for strategy and mindless obedience for loyalty.
Perhaps then we will not confuse victory with honour.