30 for 30 Australia

In 2009, Bill Simmons of ESPN began producing the station’s 30 for 30 series. 30 filmmakers were asked to create a documentary about a sporting moment, personality or event of their choice that had occurred in the previous 30 years.

The series was incredibly successful – some of its films appeared at the Sundance, Toronto and SXSW film festivals, others received widespread critical acclaim, and all of them were worthy of discussion throughout the sports media world. Indeed, 30 for 30 was so successful that ESPN are currently half way through a second series.

Unsurprisingly for ESPN, even though it refers to itself as ‘The Worldwide Leader in Sports’, most of its documentaries are focused on events that have occurred in the US.

As Australian athletes and events aren’t represented at all, I thought it only reasonable to put together a list of 30 suggested documentaries from the same time period related to Australian sport. Anyone wanna call Mr Packer and see if he’ll get-a-funding?

1) As an homage to Kings Ransom, the first in ESPN’s series that focused on the trade of Wayne Gretzky from Edmonton to Los Angeles, the first film in the Australian series will focus on the 2010 move of Gary Ablett from Geelong to the Gold Coast and the effect it had on Ablett, the fans in Geelong and the popularity of footy in southern Queensland.

2) The difficult, controversial choice presented to athletes prior to the 1980 Moscow Olympics, which the Australian Government encouraged athletes to boycott. The Australian Olympic Committee voted 6-5 in favour of sending a team and Australia competed under the Olympic flag with 120 competitors attending.

3) The NBA career of Luc Longley, the first Australian to play in the league and also the first to win a Championship. Longley was the starting centre on the Chicago Bulls for the second of their three-peats, including the best and second best seasons ever recorded by an NBA team: 72-10 in 1995-96, and 69-13 in 1996-97.

4) The 1998 Sydney-Hobart yacht race, in which six lives were lost.

5) Prior to the 2004 Athens Olympics, four legends of Australian sport had won 3 Olympic gold medals at a single games: Betty Cuthbert and Murray Rose in Melbourne, Shane Gould in Munich and Ian Thorpe in Sydney. In Athens, two much less renowned female swimmers achieved the same feat: Petria Thomas, who battled depression for much of her career, and Jodie Henry who competed in Athens but was injured before the Beijing Olympics, so never swam in Olympic competition again.

6) The two days in 1995 when rugby league players were encouraged to sign a contract with News Corp’s breakaway Super League competition. The players were not permitted to take contracts away with them or consult with managers or families, but their often huge sign-on fees were handed to them immediately.

7) Darrell Hair calls Muttiah Muralitharan for throwing at the 1995 Boxing Day Test.

8) The boom in the Fantasy AFL industry that has become so successful that the Herald Sun based much of their move to having a paywall on their website on the economics of forcing fantasy footballers to pay for access to their fantasy leagues.

9) The life of Arthur Tunstall, a member of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame for his sports administration, particularly his contribution to boxing and the Australian Commonwealth Games team. He is perhaps best known for controversy, though, including when he threatened to send Cathy Freeman home from the 1994 Games for carrying both the Australian and Aboriginal flags on her victory lap.

10) The life and death of cricket commentator Peter Roebuck, one of the sport’s most revered writers and radio analysts. Roebuck was a philanthropist who helped students from cricket-playing developing countries to undertake tertiary education. He was followed by controversy, though, being given a suspended jail sentence in 2001 for using corporal punishment on cricketers in his care, and in 2011 he committed suicide after being asked by police to answer questions about allegations of sexual assault

11) Australia’s response to insta-celebrity Kay Cottee who was the first woman to sail single-handedly, non-stop around the world. After her journey, during which she didn’t have physical contact with anyone for 189 days, she was suddenly bombarded with interviews, press conferences, civic receptions, meetings with heads of state and the Australian of the Year Award.

12) In 1995, Ian Roberts became the first high-profile Australian sportsperson and first rugby league player in the world to come out as openly gay during his career.

13) The Fine Cotton scam that saw six people banned from horse-racing for life and Bill and Robbie Waterhouse banned for 14 years. Fine Cotton was a fairly ordinary horse, and its owners attempted to win big by replacing him with a better horse who was far more likely to win.

14) In the 1998 US Open final, two Australians played against each other. Pat Rafter won his second, and what would be his final, Grand Slam on his way to becoming one of Australia’s most beloved athletes who has the centre court at Brisbane’s tennis centre named after him. Mark Philippoussis lost his first of what would be two Slam finals, on his way to becoming an athlete that many Australians point to when looking for someone who didn’t live up to his potential.

15) The ‘yips’ experienced by two successful Australian sportspeople. After winning the 1991 British Open, Ian Baker-Finch’s golf game utterly failed him and never returned while he was a professional. In 1995-96, he missed the cut or pulled out of all 29 events he entered. In his final professional round, he shot an extraordinarily poor 92 in the first round of the 1997 British Open and decided he couldn’t bear to return the next day. Some years later, World Champion and Olympic Gold medal winning pole vaulter Steve Hooker completely lost the ability to compete, saying “the confidence I require to stand at the end of the runway and then charge down, land my pole and soar almost 6m into the air has left me for the time being.”

16) In 2014, the Melbourne Tigers basketball team changed their name to Melbourne United. The hope was that a name change would encourage Victorian basketball fans who had previously supported rival Melbourne NBL teams would now support Melbourne United as they were no longer the Tigers.

17) In 2010, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission forced the makers of the Power Balance wrist band to – amongst other things – cease claiming that their product would improve the user’s balance, strength and flexibility by working “with the body’s natural energy field.” They were also forced to offer full refunds, plus postage. The bands were worn by many famous athletes across the world, including Kobe Bryant, Drew Brees, Victoria Azarenka and the St.Kilda football team.

18) At the Sydney Paralympics, a member of Spain’s intellectual disability basketball gold medal team was also an undercover journalist who revealed that most of his teammates were not disabled.

19) The 1985-86 and 1986-87 Australian rebel cricket tours of South Africa.

20) The rivalry of the Australian and New Zealand netball teams.

21) The life of Jobie Dajka, track cyclist and 2002 World Champion in the keirin. He suffered from depression, alcohol-related stress and was banned for three years following an assault on the Australian track coach. Dajka was found dead in his home in 2009, having never attended an Olympics.

22) In a letter to all National Soccer League clubs in 1996, Soccer Australia explained that to participate in the following season, “All clubs shall be obliged to remove all symbols of European nationalism from club logos, playing strips, club flags, stadium names and letterheads.” Arguments for and against the move were immediate, including from politicians and most Australian soccer players and commentators.

23) Sally Robbins lays down in the boat during the 2004 Athens Olympics. She quickly gains infamy and is destroyed by the media. Eventually, the fact that she had done this more than once prior to the Games is recounted by her teammates in court as witnesses in a defamation case brought against Alan Jones by Australian Olympic Committee President John Coates.

24) The residents of Benalla, Victoria and Bunbury, Western Australia reminisce over the visit of the great West Indies cricket team of 1984 visiting their towns to play against the local state country team.

25) The findings of the federal senate select committee inquiry into animal welfare in 1991 that concluded that jumps racing should be phased out on the grounds of cruelty. New South Wales responded by banning jumps racing in 1997, while Victoria still hold jumps races including some that are worth over $250,000.

26) The St Marys Football Club in the Northern Territory Football League, arguably the most successful local AFL team in the country. The Saints won 6 Premierships in each of the 80s, 90s and 00s, producing many indigenous AFL players including Maurice and Cyril Rioli and Michael Long.

27) In 2006, Peter Brock skidded during the Targa West rally, hit a tree and died instantly.

28) The career of Jelena Dokic, semi-finalist at Wimbledon and the Sydney Olympics, along with the rocky relationships between her, her family, Tennis Australia and the wider Australian sporting public.

29) The Melbourne Storm salary cap scandal that saw the team stripped of the 2007 and 2009 NRL Premierships.

30) Australia’s reaction to the cult hero of Olympic mascots, Fatso the Fat-Arsed Wombat.

Posted in Sport | 5 Comments

Interpretations of 5 hours

What does it matter, what we say about people?

This past weekend, my parents took me to two World League volleyball matches between Australia and Finland. The matches were both fascinatingly close 5-setters that took a combined 5 hours to decide. It extended my relationship with the Australian team, who I’ve come to appreciate through their performances at the London Olympics and their World Championship qualification series last year.

There’s libero Luke Perry – who is nothing like Luke Perry – who looks like he should be drinking heavily on a European Kontiki tour during his gap year rather than playing on a national sporting team. Appearing like the little-brother-who-thinks-he’s-the-coolest-guy-in-the-world, his teammates often look down and chuckle as he swears at himself for not cleanly returning an unreturnable spike that was travelling at a million miles an hour somewhere vaguely within his vicinity.

There’s the hilariously capricious setter Harrison Peacock who aggressively kicks his water bottle in frustration with his own performance upon being subbed off, angrily standing by himself a little separate from the other reserves. But upon his return a set later, he can be seen bouncing around the court to slap hands with each of his teammates as if to say “Don’t worry fellas, I’m here. You can count on me to guide you through all of this coolly and calmly.”

There’s Thomas Edgar, the mountain of a hitter. A man who looks like a 6-foot-11 version of Roger Ramjet, resplendent with jutting-out jaw and chest, who would attract attention if he were to walk down a street. Bystanders would hope like hell that he’s athletic, because they wouldn’t be able to work out what a guy with his kind of build would do if he weren’t. On court, Edgar throws the ball so high before his jump-serve, one wonders if arrogance and showiness has overtaken any sense of an understanding of the term ‘margin-of-error’.

There’s Adam White, the rangy hitter with the shaved head, a southern cross tattooed on a shoulder and the Olympic rings on the inside of a forearm. A guy who presents as the personification of the age-old don’t-want-them-at-your-Australia-Day-party stereotype.

And there’s Nathan Roberts, the smiley reserve-come-starter who seems like everyone’s popular, chilled, all-inclusive big brother. Exuding warmth and a relaxed confidence, his play doesn’t appear at all spectacular when compared to many of his peers, but he appears entirely confident with his precise understanding of the percentages and angles of the game.

It’s silly, of course, the way we develop judgements and reach conclusions about these people.

Would we find them charming and engaging if given the opportunity? Or are they immoral or dishonest, adulterous or violent? Are they suffering in ways we cannot comprehend – death, illness, estrangement? Or are they as lucky, happy, and jovial as can be? Are they so intelligent we’d struggle to keep up with them or are they completely illiterate?

And how much does any of this matter to those of us who are only presented with a 5 hour window into their public lives?

Despite endless evidence to the contrary, we pretend that sportspeople are precise mirrors of our interpretations of their on-court and media-driven personas. We watch, discuss, argue about and analyse the unanalysable. We choose heroes and villains by applying some beautifully changeable algorithm of persona, appearance and the team who they represent.

Watching such a relatively unknown team as the Volleyroos reminds one of this aspect of sportspeople’s place as reality television-esque characters within our society.

Take our various interpretations of the actions, movements and words of a teenage Ian Thorpe as an example. Those who saw him as a well-mannered, charming and carefree young man from a loving family now argue that swimming and fame have caused his current turmoil – something they say appears unavoidable considering the plights of Hackett, Huegill and others. Those who saw him as a tightly-wound, highly-strung, sexually-confused adolescent stuffed into an other-wordly-body say they always saw it coming.

But we still enjoy it all, of course. We love it, in fact – it’s a major part of the fun. And for each of us, our thoughts on an athlete’s character are, in our minds, as perfect an assessment of them as we can make. We believe whatever we believe about them all, however flawed our thoughts may be.

Posted in Sport, Volleyball | Leave a comment

Bizarro World

So, let me get this straight.

The year is 2014, but everything seems completely upside-down.

Apparently, the reigning Wimbledon gentleman’s singles champion is British.

And the reigning Wimbledon ladies’ singles champion is retired.

And only one of the top 60 male tennis players in the world is American. And not one active US male tennis player has won a Grand Slam tournament.

And the highest ranked Swedish player is a guy called Markus Eriksson who’s ranked 362nd.

What the?

It’s not just tennis, either.

The four most recent winners of the Tour de France are from Great Britain, Great Britain, Australia and Luxembourg.

Meanwhile, according to the official records, no cyclist won the Tour de France between 1999 and 2005. Yep, apparently we spent many hours over 7 years wondering who was going to win events that ultimately wouldn’t have a winner.

But let’s move on.

Countries who are seeded in this month’s World Cup in Brazil include Switzerland and Belgium. Countries who are not seeded include Italy, England and the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, FIFA have awarded the World Cup for 2022 to a country where the average temperature in June-July exceeds 50C. The average minimum temperature doesn’t drop below 30C. It is also a country whose soccer team has never qualified for the World Cup previously.

You’d think that things in Australia wouldn’t be so bizarre. But you’d be wrong.

The trainer of the reigning Melbourne Cup winner is female.

Fremantle played in the most recent AFL Grand Final.

Kevin Sheedy finished his coaching career with a 6.82% winning percentage at his club.

One state has won 8 consecutive State of Origin series.

Not one long-course swimming world record is held by an Australian. And not one active Australian swimmer has won an Olympic gold medal.

The world’s number 1 ranked golfer and last year’s US Masters champion is Australian.

Two Aussies are playing in the NBA Finals.

Yep, the country is ordinary where it is usually good and good where it is usually ordinary.

And we can’t even expect some sense of normality to be restored by some of the great rocks of the sporting world. For even many of the most reliable athletes in history are not able to help our cause.

In 3 of the last 4 Grand Slam tournaments, Roger Federer hasn’t reached the quarter-finals.

Meanwhile, Tiger Woods hasn’t won any of the last 18 major tournaments he’s entered.

Seriously, everywhere you turn it keeps gets stranger.

A third of America’s gold medals at this year’s Winter Olympics were in an event called ‘slopestyle’.

The reigning 4x400m Olympic gold medallists aren’t even American. They’re from the Bahamas.

I mean, even test cricket, that most traditional, slowly-evolving of sports, is peculiar to the eye.

South Africa’s most recent test match scorecard did not include the name J.H.Kallis.

India’s most recent test match scorecard did not include the name S.R.Tendulkar.

And just when one thinks they’ve found a familiar corner of the sporting world, when one thinks that surely the strangeness can’t reach them there, one reads this week’s news.

Irene Van Dyk’s retired.

Sheesh.

 

Posted in Sport | 1 Comment

Playing your part

At the start of April, I travelled to Doha as part of an investigation into the conditions of migrant workers labouring on the construction sites of Qatar. What I saw was a disgrace. The workers I met told me of abuse, exploitation and deception.

One Kenyan father I met had been unable to see his child for five years because his employer had seized his passport and left the country, leaving him stranded and unable to work or go home. Others told of no payment or underpayment and said the conditions they lived in were inhuman. Sometimes as many as eight men shared a room no bigger than a child’s bedroom.

Many of those I met told me about a total lack of health and safety protection. The number of deaths by heart failure is so extreme that the firm appointed to assess the allegations which were unearthed by the Guardian, Amnesty International and others, recommended a full inquiry.

The Qataris have since announced very limited reform, including some changes to kafala, the sponsorship system for migrant labourers. But let’s be clear, this is a very small step in the right direction; there is industrial-scale abuse of workers in Qatar and nothing announced so far will bring that to an end. These proud workers shouldn’t have to die while building a World Cup.

-       Jim Murphy, The Guardian

What are you supposed to do? How are you supposed to feel? Surely you’re not to blame, right?

You’ve been looking forward to the World Cup for 4 years. It’s a month during which you can revel in sport, fascinated by all of the cultures coming together over one of the world’s most widespread, simplest, and cheapest games to play.

But men are dying in Qatar. Dying miles away from their families, in one of the world’s richest countries, having attempted to flee from poverty. Dying while building stadiums that will be used for the 2022 Cup.

You don’t know how many have died. According to Slate, Qatari officials were saying as recently as April that no-one had died while doing work for the World Cup. However, the International Trade Union Confederation has said that 1,200 migrants have died in the four years since Qatar was awarded the Cup, with the Nepalese Embassy in Qatar saying that 400 of them have been from their country.

But what are you supposed to do? How are you supposed to feel?

Surely, you’re not responsible. You’re just a random who watches the games, talks about them with workmates, attends World Cup parties down the pub and at your mates’ houses. Someone whose complete knowledge of Costa Rica and Honduras comes from their occasional qualification for the Finals. You’re just an armchair critic of the sport, the teams and through them the national characters of as diverse a range of nations as you’re likely to engage with for a long time. You’re just someone who loves the games, the narratives, the history and the spectacle. You’re just someone playing your miniscule, irrelevant part in one of the world’s biggest events.

So you’re not even close to being responsible, right?

Isn’t it the fault of FIFA for awarding the World Cup to Qatar in the first place? Isn’t it the fault of Qatar’s government, or any other people with power in the country who don’t speak out about the indescribable conditions migrant workers are forced to endure?

Or is there just the slightest bit of guilt that belongs to you? For isn’t this tournament’s success all thanks to the casual fans? The literal millions of people soaking in the games, the spectacle, and all of the advertising surrounding them? Aren’t they, and by implication you, the ones bringing FIFA the billions of dollars that the tournament earns through tickets, advertising, sponsorships and broadcasting rights? Aren’t they the reason Qatari officials allegedly bribed their way to the hosting rights, as the officials so desperately wanted casual fans like you to watch games, participate in conversations and hold parties at which everyone would be talking about, promoting and sharing in the biggest event in Qatar’s history?

Don’t FIFA and Qatar know that you’ll watch the games and soak in the advertising regardless of the issues surrounding the World Cup? Doesn’t this make you just a little culpable?

You don’t know.

And either way, what are you supposed to do? How are you supposed to feel?

Are you supposed to stop watching the games? What a pathetically pointless protest. Cutting off your nose to spite your face – missing out on sharing in sporting history with your friends and family in order to suggest that a tiny country on the other side of the world should be changing its migrant worker laws. It’d be a protest that no-one would hear – you don’t even have a black-ratings-box on your TV to register the fact that you wouldn’t be watching.

No, you know what will happen.

When the World Cup starts in Brazil later this month, you will watch the games the way you always do. You will be sucked in to the joy-de-vivre of the occasion and feel as cultured as ever, learning about countries far away from yours. You will use the event as an excuse to catch-up with family and friends, reminiscing about old times while sharing in the love of their company during the present.  You will feel as righteous as you can, as you know what’s going on in Qatar – you will voice your disgust and despair at what has been reported – but you will be safe in the knowledge that there’s nothing you can do from your position half-way across the world. You’d change the world, if only you weren’t so magnificently insignificant.

And besides, Qatar isn’t holding the World Cup until 2022 and some believe FIFA might even take the tournament away from the country between now and then.

So, for now, you will relax and enjoy Brazil 2014 without feeling any reservations at all. You’ll remind yourself that one of the benefits of this World Cup is that it’s made you aware of all of Brazil’s various social issues. And such knowledge, even if you can’t do anything about it and will probably never think about it again after the tournament, is a good thing, right?

You’re educated. You know what’s happening.

And you’re going to love the World Cup regardless.

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Not too much to ask

I grew up in a mixed AFL family, in which all five of us supported different teams. Not long ago, I asked my brother whether he was going to follow in the footsteps of our parents and allow his eldest to choose his own team, or if the kid was going to be like so many others and have his team chosen for him. “He can choose his own,” came the reply. “But if the Canberra Cannons return to the NBL, then his support will just be assumed.”

My family grew up supporting the Cannons throughout their heyday in the 80’s and 90’s. Some of my earliest memories involve taking naps on Saturday afternoons so that I could be awake enough to join the family in our season ticket seats at The Palace in the evening.

The phases of my youth were reflected in my Cannons experiences. I started as the littlest kid of the family who were collecting endless aluminium cans after games, fundraising for my elder brother’s representative basketball trips. I grew into the young player surrounded by similarly awe-struck, beaming teammates in the photo when our club team played in The Palace for the first time. Later, I became one of the young teenage players who would sell programs at the door. Next, I graduated to be one of those spending the games watching from standing room as I and all of the other local teenage players talked – and occasionally flirted – our way through the games, distant from our parents in the seats. And finally, I was back in the seats with my folks again, old enough to understand that my enjoyment of their company at basketball games would never be surpassed.

Recent news articles have stated that the NBL is about to expand its league, aiming to introduce four new teams. If The Canberra Times is to be believed, there’s going to be a large bid from a Canberran group wanting to bring back the Cannons.

Old Cannons fans have been writing comments online supporting the move, reminiscing over names of Cannons stars from the past and transporting themselves back to another time.

Incredibly, no-one seems to be talking in a more defensive fashion.

During its 35 year history, the now 8-team NBL has amassed a list of 33 defunct teams.

My son is 2 years old, and if the Cannons return, his support – like that of his cousins – will be assumed. The family will reunite with the NBL, bonding over a team in a way that we don’t in our split-footy-family environment. I can only guess at the experiences and memories the Cannons might provide him if they exist in the future, but I would hope they would replicate the great joys their original incarnation gave to both his mother and I. For she was there too, always sitting somewhere in The Palace. We were two kids with their families, completely unaware of each other’s presence.

When the Cannons disappeared from the league in 2003, Mrs EPO and I had just moved out of home, taking off to Wollongong together. We attended our last Cannons game – the team’s second last ever – when they were thumped in Wollongong’s Sandpit, a half-empty stadium of Hawks fans completely unaware of the numbness we both felt as we fell silent throughout the second half. We were both individually reflecting on how we had grown up with the team and its city, keenly sensing the finality associated with the loss of our respective childhoods.

Ultimately, though, we were lucky.

I can’t bear to imagine how I would have felt had the Cannons been taken away when I was anywhere between the ages of 4 and 15. I can’t comprehend the experiences of those thousands of Australian basketball-loving kids who have lost their favourite team in the past.

I would love the 2-year-old to grow up with a re-booted Cannons. But if they do exist and he falls in love with them, only for them to become one of the 80% of NBL teams that don’t survive, it would destroy me. I would want all of the NBL and Cannons administrators to deliver the news personally to all of the kids who suffer the fate of having their colours and heroes taken away. Like adults, kids enjoy the simplistic beauty, clear morality and endless consistency of a great sporting love while desperately trying to make sense out of an otherwise uncertain, unclear and ever-changing world. To take a team away from them is beyond unfair.

Please, basketball administrators of Australia and New Zealand, remember your key constituents. Remember the power you have to influence lives. Make sure a team is sustainable in the long term before you give a local team to children from four more cities.

And on a more personal note, if you give my son the Cannons, you’d bloody well better be sure that he has them for as long as I did.

That’s not too much to ask, is it?

 

This post was also published on Downtown, a new Australian website covering the NBL, NBA and basketball culture.

Posted in Basketball, Sport | 2 Comments

Smart Pricing

Last year, the Australian men’s volleyball team hosted three other countries in a round-robin tournament in Canberra, the winner qualifying for the World Championships.

Fans were charged $20 to attend one night of these qualifiers, watching two games between Australia, Kazhakstan, Kuwait and Thailand. When I attended on the Friday and Saturday, I found almost half of The Palace – hardly a massive stadium –covered in black mesh so that people couldn’t sit in the seats. This forced those few people present to sit closer together, enabling the occasional camera angle to suggest a relatively reasonable crowd was in attendance.

But check out the Aussies’ team photo taken on court right before their first match. My folks and I are actually behind the team, literally the only three people sitting in an otherwise empty stand at the end of the court. So much for President of Volleyball Australia Craig Carracher’s encouragement for “volleyball fans from all over Australia to descend on the nation’s capital to show their support for what will be a spectacle of athletic prowess.”

But at least the cost was reasonable. Two matches for $20 seemed appropriate, especially when Australia’s most highly ranked opponents would be Thailand and Kazakhstan, tied in the rankings at 48.

This week, the Australian Volleyball Federation released the ticket prices for Australia’s World League games.

The World League is Volleyball’s annual showcase of many world’s best teams. This year, the FIVB have decided to expand the World League, so that there is a Division 1 – 8 teams, 5 of whom will qualify for the finals – and a Division 2 – 12 teams, 1 of whom will qualify for the finals. Australia are playing in a 4-team pool in Division 2.

In their first weekend of matches on home soil, Australia plays Finland in Canberra – once on Saturday and once on Sunday. A ticket for one of these matches will cost $35.

Hold on. $35?!? They couldn’t get more than a handful or two of people to pay $20 for two matches of the final round of World Championship qualifiers, and yet the AVF expect people to pay $35 for one match against a team who is still only ranked 30th in the World?

And hold on. The $35 doesn’t even include the booking fee?!?

It costs the same amount to see the Aussies play Canada – ranked 11th – in Sydney a few weekends later. If you were a Canadian, though, and wanted to see the Aussies play Canada when they meet in Edmonton, you’d be charged $35 – including the booking fee – for a baseline seat to both of the matches on the weekend. Yep, in Canada they get to watch twice as much volleyball for the same price we’re being asked to pay in Australia.

And what a price it is.

Let’s break it down. For Mrs EPO and I to watch one match of volleyball, it would cost us $70. At worst, it’ll be over in 3 sets – each set costing us just over $23. At best, we’ll see 5 sets with each set costing us $14. Comparing this to the World Championship qualifying experience, where for $40 we were guaranteed to see 6 sets at under $7 a piece, is hilarious. At best, we’re paying twice as much per set this time around. At worst, it’s almost six times as much.

Do the AVF really expect people to come rushing through the doors when so few came the last time the Volleyroos were in town?

For $39, I can score a ground pass to a day of the Australian Open tennis. That’s a day’s tennis that starts at 11am and ends whenever the match on Margaret Court Arena that starts at 7:30pm finishes that night. Sure, you don’t get to see the matches that are on the two main courts, but you certainly have the opportunity to see those ranked outside the top few –you’ll absolutely see players ranked more highly than Australia (14) and Finland (30) are in volleyball. Oh, and you get to choose between matches being played on 14 different courts. Oh, and did I mention that it is an internationally renowned sporting event that people travel from overseas for the chance to experience?

For $35, I can score tickets to two AFL games at the SCG. With $7 change left over. I could score the cheapest ticket to the most expensive AFL game of the regular season at the MCG. With $10 left over.

I’m sorry. I must stop here. For I’m letting my anger get the better of me when actually my more prevailing emotion should be a mixture of sadness and disappointment.

When I was at high school, I was a volleyballer. As such, when the World Championship qualifiers were on last year, I expected to see a bunch of old mates in the crowd. But none of them were there. Practically no-one other than the families of the players and a bunch of touring athletes staying at the AIS attended. Very few people around town knew it was on, including local club players.

When the Olympics came to Sydney, I attended many days of the volleyball. Tickets for two-match sessions cost $19. I was one of those guys who would chat to those around me, often spending time teaching them the rules and intricacies of this sport that I had come to love.

When I heard that the World League – even if it was only Division 2 – was coming to Australia, I literally shouted with excitement. Mrs EPO and I particularly thought that the Sunday afternoon game in Canberra would be a great opportunity to take the 2-year-old to watch his first international volleyball game.

Now, we feel we’ve been priced out of the weekend. And we hate to think how few non-volleyball-people will pony up that kind of cash to attend when so few paid $20 last time around.

As fans of our national team, we’ll still be watching, of course. But I’m afraid to say that they won’t be getting our money. We’ll be cheering them on from the couch instead.

 

Postscript: Sydney is going to play host to the Division 2 Finals of the World League. Bizarrely, one’s $35 ticket will provide entry to two matches – either the two semis on Friday, or the two Finals on the Saturday. While this is a much better deal for fans, it only goes to show how ridiculous it is to ask people to pay $35 to attend just one of the preliminary matches.

Posted in Sport, Volleyball | Leave a comment

What do you say?

Last month, after 23 years at Sports Illustrated and 7 at ESPN, Rick Reilly wrote his last column. I devote this post to him, unashamedly stealing some of the concept from the style in which he wrote a beautiful note to his wife in the 19 December 2000 edition of Sports Illustrated.

I heard about Rick Reilly’s retirement as I was looking for something else online, and suddenly thought “What can I say to him?”

I mean, what do you say to the man whose writing you first discovered when you were a teenager, the text jumping off the page as a perfect example of entertaining, engaging and precise prose? For his impression on you was immediate – the first of his pieces that you read, a feature on Patrick Ewing, is still the best example you’ve ever seen as to how to write an article on someone who doesn’t allow you access for an interview.

What do you say to the man who had what you came to believe was the Best Job In The Universe, writing a weekly column for the backpage of Sports Illustrated? The man whose writing would consistently be the first thing you’d read when you collected your favourite magazine from the local Canberran newsagent each week? Whose versatility you are inspired to try to emulate 20 years later while writing a sports-blog for family and friends, despite knowing you don’t have one-fifteenth of his talent?

What do you say to the man who wrote so many stunning columns that you shared with your high school English classes during your teaching career that they knew him by name? Who you introduced so many of your Aussie mates to that two of them thought the best gift to purchase you for your 21st birthday was a signed book from the man himself?

What do you say to the guy who wrote one of the most memorable pages of writing you’ve ever read – the incomparable ‘Funny You Should Ask’, in which amongst other brilliant moments, he tells his son:

“See, grown-ups spend so much time doggedly slaving toward the better car, the perfect house, the big day that will finally make them happy when happy just walked by wearing a bicycle helmet two sizes too big for him. We’re not here to find a way to heaven. The way is heaven.”

What do you say to a man who wrote hilarious columns on deadline (like that one on Jean Van de Velde’s meltdown at the British Open), who made it cool to write about inspirational “little guys” (like that incredible coach who died at in the Littleton school shooting), who made important points in the way you dreamt of writing (like that time he took on deer hunters), and who wrote features that are regarded amongst the greatest in sports history (like that cover story on Marge Schott)?

What do you say to the man whose use of metaphor and simile was, at times, beyond compare?

And what, exactly, do you say to the man who first angered you when he wrote the forward to The Best American Sports Writing 2002, in which he provided advice for wannabe-sports-writers? In his piece, he quoted Oscar Wilde as having said “Never write a sentence you’ve already read.” It was a well-made point, except that he had already written exactly the same piece of advice in the forward to his collection of columns entitled The Life of Reilly. What do you say to the man who appeared to have such little respect for we devotees of sports writing?

What do you say to the man whose writing you stopped reading as it became repetitive and formulaic during the mid-2000’s? Whose career you suddenly wanted to ignore, as if you could pretend his career had finished, in the same way as you spent many years pretending that Kevin Spacey’s career ended at American Beauty?

What do you say to the man who became a laughing stock later in his career? Who had articles written not only about how he recycled his own previous work and became an average writer, but even about how insanely often he used repetitive references to teeth in his columns?

What do you say to someone who allowed one of America’s most suspect athletes – Lance Armstrong – to write the forward for his last collection of columns? Someone whose own father-in-law argued that Reilly misquoted him and then refused to correct the record, on an issue which made his father-in-law feel like he’d been portrayed as racially inappropriate?

What do you say to someone who has come to the end of one of the most inspiring and disappointing careers ever experienced by a sportswriter?

It just hit me. This.

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