Australia’s national character slurred

Despite its small population – 22 million – Australia has always performed exceptionally well in global sports contests. We love sport and while most of us are sadly just armchair fans, those who do dedicate their lives to achieving great prowess do the rest of us proud.

Sadly, the exploits of our sports stars allow many Aussies to wrongly think we are fitter and healthier than we are. Wishful thinking lets us believe that – with just a bit of effort – we, too, could win the adulation of fans and the respect of strangers.

Of course, it doesn’t work that way and a mountain of statistics reveals most of us are flabby, eating poorly and exercising grossly inadequately. But the myth persists that we would only have to lift a bat, a racquet or a ball to come away a winner.

That cavalier and vicarious thrill of transposing our own self-image onto that of sports stars was dealt a savage blow in recent days and the nation is reeling as a result.

The snuffing of a dream came with a report from the Australian Crime Commission which suggested that doping was a major problem rife through our most popular sports, especially various codes of football as well as cricket. The chorus that these revelations signified the blackest day in Australian sport was led by no less than the federal government with our Justice Minister standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the bosses of several sporting codes to acknowledge that massive harm had been done to our global image as sporting cleanskins.

It is a fact that Australia has been a world leader in the anti-doping crusade but our reputation, for the moment, is in tatters. That qualification is not entirely a wishful delusion since the Crime Commission has not named names and provided no substantive evidence. No prosecutions have been launched and everything remains hearsay and conjecture.

Even so, most of us who do not believe in the tooth fairy have a sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs that there is a glaring problem confronting our cherished sporting ethos. You see, one of the strongest traits of our national identity is the notion of fair play: that while we hate losing, cheating is actually beneath contempt.

But now we are told that crime syndicates have been peddling “supplements” to various clubs and players, that various club administrations have been complicit in this – even to the extent of a whole team being taken off-site to receive injections – and that matches may have been fixed as well.

The phrase “love my footy” now leaves a bad taste in the mouth and it is a very unpleasant experience.

The list of issues that arise from this announcement is as long as the Nile and very few answers seem forthcoming. This is go0ing to drag on for a long time but, hopefully, it may be the kick in the backside that we really need to rebuild our global reputation.

But one question won’t stop going around and around my head. What professional athlete in this day and age could possibly be taken somewhere ‘secret’ and get injected with a fluid and not think something was seriously remiss? Okay, many of our sports stars are more adept with footwork than brainwork but how stupid would you have to be? And, apparently, for not even one player to say No and blow the whistle?

We live in a sad, sad world.

Perhaps the saddest aspect of this is that so many quality people who remain committed to the highest ideals have been tarnished by these accusations. It’s a slur that spreads far and wide and if we armchair fans feel cheated, just imagine how the clean athletes feel. A dreadful penalty for them.