Sport. Most Australians love it and it’s almost a religion in Australia. If we don’t play sports, we usually watch it: Aussie Rules Football (AFL or footy, a ball game played with hands and feet), cricket, rugby, netball and soccer to name a few. We also host numerous sporting tournaments each year like the Australian Open (tennis, golf), F1 and Melbourne Cup (horse racing).
When I was a kid living in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, P.E. classes consisted of playing sport, usually baseball or obstacle courses where you stepped through tires to get to the finish line. The teacher picked two athletic classmates as team captains and the latter picked their teams. Skinny Asian me was always the last student left standing alone, waiting to be chosen…
…but that didn’t stop me from paying attention to sport. Watching AFL matches on TV was something I did each week up until the end of university. It was a fun few occasions when I went to the Australian Open tennis. On and off again, I look up to see how Liverpool are kicking soccer balls in the English Premier League. I’m not a die-hard sport fanatic, but I don’t hate sport either.
We love sport because often it brings us together through common interest. Sport has been played in Australia since the colonisation of the nation in 1788 and it’s arguably a part of our cultural citizenship, our national identity. Once on a trip to Pakistan, former Prime Minister John Howard showed off his less than perfect cricket bowling and batting skills, making the national news. One time I sat at Federation Square watching the footy finals on the big screen and noticed I was the only Asian person where I was sitting. Nobody bothered me; everyone’s eyes were on the screen.
Australians are passionate about sport because sport is about mateship, and many Aussie sports players share the true blue Aussie spirit. Olympic track athlete John Landy stopped to help fellow fallen Aussie runner Ron Clarke during the 1956 Australian National Championships. Australian tennis legend Pat Rafter showed the same sportsmanship at the 2001 Wimbledon final, losing graciously to Goran Ivanisevic after a see-sawing five set battle. Play nice, play fair.
Aside from competitive affairs, sport is also about recreation. There’s generally good weather all year round Down Under which makes it practical for outdoor sport – and the average laid-back Aussie with the “easy as” attitude loves the great outdoors, BBQs and camping to pass the time, so naturally why not play or watch sport too.
Many Australians also hold the “work hard, play harder” spirit, all the more reason to revel in the cheerleader side of sport. Millions of Australians watch sport each year; the AFL Grand Final was the most watched program on TV last year. A few times I worked on the Melbourne Cup public holiday: when the main horse race started at 3pm, the whole office always stopped work and crowded around the TV to watch it. Some of my colleagues were die hard sports fans, some not so.
Sometimes it’s not all fun and games when it comes to sport Down Under. Sport divides; some sports are more popular in certain states. Queensland, soccer. Sydney, rugby. Melbourne, footy – and if you don’t have anything to say when a Melburnian asks you which footy team you barrack for, the conversation can get awkward. There’s also the Melbourne versus Sydney sporting rivalry, the two states forever fighting to claim the mantel as the nation’s sporting capital, fighting to host sporting events like the F1 and Australian Open tennis. Friendly rivalry, perhaps.
At grassroots level, sport helps young migrants settle into Australia. But then there’s not forgetting that cultural discrimination and masculine dominance revolves around Australian sport on the bigger stage, such as how time and time again Aboriginal football players are racially taunted on-field and the stances they have to take to get the recognition they deserve within local sport. Sadly, for some of us Australians who are avid followers of sport, we think we’re a class up from others around us under the guise of white privilege. Though we might have a common interest in sport and watch sporting games together, it doesn’t always mean sport brings us together as a nation, as people.
I’m pretty sure the way my Chinese-Malaysian parents raised me has nothing to do with my rather petty interest in sport. My parents didn’t mind much that my Caucasian classmates didn’t want me to be on their sport teams. In fact, they rather I didn’t play contact sport, warning me “don’t fall down” before P.E. school days probably so I could continue memorising formulas during the next Maths class like the typically studious Asian. On the other hand, they were very encouraging of swimming when I went to high school in Singapore and Malaysia, enrolling me into swimming lessons. Oddly enough, I remember enjoying coming in last in the obstacle courses way more than doing laps in pools all to myself .
Is it un-Australian to not have much of an interest in sport? I don’t join in the footy conversations at work, or play the footy tipping office games. And no one at work seems to mind. Liking sport or not usually boils down to personality. And it’s in the Australian spirit to go, “anything goes”.
So probably not.
Are you a fan of sports? Are/were you good at sports in school?