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Byron Shire
November 30, 2022

The soul of football-based sports

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It is around this time of the year I look at myself in the mirror and ask, ‘what is wrong with me?’

So many of my friends are dressing up in team colours, talking about tackle rates, having a flutter, spending up big on paraphernalia and watching grand finals on big screens with big voices.

Why am I so unusual and so utterly disinterested?

David Heilpern is a retired NSW Magistrate having sat in regional and rural NSW for over 20 years. He is the Dean of Law at Southern Cross University, and is Director of “Drive Change” an organisation dedicated to law reform in the area of drug driving, with particular emphasis on prescribed cannabis patients.

Perhaps because when it comes to AFL, I watched the Adam Goodes documentaries and cringed and seethed at the unchecked mob racism of the taunting and booing crowds.

And this has only been made worse by the latest Hawthorn allegations. The culture seems rotten to the core.

Perhaps, when it comes to rugby league, I’m turned off because it is just so commercial and gambling based.

Additionally, it’s so head-injury -rampant and macho-aggro-sexist, that I haven’t watched since Eric Simms was my hero for a year or two.

(And, to divert for one minute, my pet hate is the industry preferred term of “gaming”.

Nope, it’s not. Gambling revenue has tripled since 2020.

Marketing driven euphemisms hide reality, and that reality is pain).

Why give credence to egomaniac dickheads like Kyrgios by watching the tennis?

Little boy smashes racket. Yawn.

And who would seriously bother watching rugby with all the aspirational wanna-be private school boffins when Australia just loses all the time?

The round ball game only last Saturday featured booing during the Welcome to Country and then mass Nazi salutes.

Go sport! And Kylian Mbappe plays for some club in Paris and earns, yes, about $100 million per year. Dare I mention poverty?

It is surely too soon to digest the mass deaths in Indonesia this weekend at a soccer match.

At its heart, the whole elite team sport thing seems so completely ridiculous.

My research shows that there are very, very few players from Geelong that grew up in Geelong.

Almost every Penrith player comes from elsewhere.

I mean, at least it makes some sense when backing a country like ‘stralia at the Olympics, or even (at a pinch) a State.

I mean, we all hate Queenslanders, don’t we? When I played junior league for North Sydney, my team all lived in that bunch of suburbs.

Which is possibly why we lost every game. Legendary Nimbin Headers are at least all from Nimbin.

But given that the team players in elite sport by-and-large have nothing to do with the geographic area, and are just ring-ins brought (or bought) by a financial mechanism too complex to bother to understand, why would anyone support one team over another?

Is there some ancient need to pick a totem, a ritual of competitiveness like crab racing on Magnetic Island that defies all logic?

I saw people actually come to blows over ‘their’ randomly allocated crustaceans.

I’m all for ground-level participatory sport, but the fun in ‘pick and stick high level sport club following’ completely escapes me.

Fanship only makes sense where there is at least a remnant geographic or cultural connection with the teams.

Sport is the new opium of the masses. Why don’t we pick Team Homelessness, or Team Native Forests, or Team Domestic Violence?

Give them a uniform and team colours and then instead of spending all this time and energy on Storm or Rebels or Manchester United, transfer the unending obsessive attention into working toward making the world a better place in your chosen area.

If we have to compete, then let’s do it in terms of shelters created, trees saved or black eyes reduced.

My friends would say, ‘It gives me a diversion from all that’.

Really, it’s three minutes to midnight on social justice and the environment, and you want to watch overpaid, pampered, drug-stuffed ‘heroes’ of sports dominated by domestic violence, alcoholism, racism, and gambling on who gets the first penalty?

Maybe get diverted by something that changes the world, not the score. Instead, it’s ‘don’t look up’ when you can watch a replay.

My inadequacy and angst in the mirror dissolves into a determination to ‘fit in’ a bit more.

I will try to read the sports pages, and not use the last ten minutes of the ABC TV news to make a cup of herbal tea.

I will practise holding a beer bottle and swigging.

I will yell at the television at random moments not connected to politics.

I’m going to attempt to muster enthusiasm for a bit of the lingo, comment on WAGs dresses, and hope to remember that panthers are from Penrith, lions from Brisbane, and brumbies from Canberra.

No native animals there, eh!

I guess the wombats just don’t cut the mustard.

You’d think that by 60, I just would have accepted that I am the odd man out. Pathetic, really.

David Heilpern is Dean of Law at SCU and a former magistrate.


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20 COMMENTS

  1. “You’d think that by 60, I just would have accepted that I am the odd man out. Pathetic, really.”

    I accepted, many years ago – in fact at about the time this article’s writer was born – that I was content to be ‘the odd man out’ when it came to sports.

    In school I had to suffer the constant put-downs of my Sports / PE master, who was an alpha bully of the first order. I reached the point of total non-cooperation where I would always ‘forget’ to take my sports togs to school on Wednesdays. The punishment for that was banishment to the library for the half-day. The punitive effect of that was my lifelong addiction to reading, writing, editing … .

    Sorry? Not bloody likely!

    Amongst all those books I was far more at ease – and not at all ridiculed – than on the macho sportsfields.

    At my school’s 50-year reunion I had the satisfaction of telling that (retired) sports master what he’d achieved: my lifelong, vehement rejection of sports – all because of his bullying attitude and his motto that “the only reason to play sports is to kill the competition”. And I told him within hearing of all who attended that reunion.

    I have found far better, and more fulfilling, means of wasting time than sport, whether active or spectating.

    To this day I have no idea of what any of it means, and I’m perfectly content in that ignorance.

    And I also despise an industry that values, and pays, its players more highly than workers who are essential to society’s functioning. Millions of dollars for kicking a ball (and a few heads at the same time)? Ob-bloody-scene!

  2. Indeed – wonderfully written. Even my Adams Family relatives can’t quite get rid of the over action of ‘inaction’ that turns out to be
    what matters most. Affiliation between mice & men’s been done in too, along with a call-to-arms. Manhood is vastly growing ripe,
    backwardly. Shell shocked monks say they have Dropped The Piolet before immigrating to Mars.

  3. Right on!
    Glad to know I’m not the only Aussie who finds the whole “sports thing” a bit confusing. 👌🏻😊

  4. Yeah mate, sport is brutal. Three players were injured in the end zone celebrations when the Giants played the Titans. And watching cricket you might as well watch paint dry. There aren’t any obnoxious people screaming, no drunk people crawling around and it’s so chill. It’s really the perfect place to relax with some beers without feeling any pressure at all whatsoever. Love. And the chill atmosphere. Gotta love it. Groucho did.

  5. Penrith have been so successful BECAUSE most of their players have been playing together through the junior ranks. They are mostly locals.
    Elite sport is just another form of entertainment like the ballet.
    The gambling aspect IS a big worry.

    • Thanks “The Sheriff”, this has been pointed out to me by several people – that Penrith is actually an exemplar of localisation. I always learn so much from the feedback. Appreciated. David.

  6. You’re definitely not alone David.. the real ‘quiet Australians’ are blessed by the lack of any need to dress up in expensive mass produced regalia and carry on like prats in support of a bunch of overpaid, arrogant grunts.
    Teaching at a huge school that valued sport, especially rugby, above all else was the end of any interest I may ever have had in showing even lukewarm interest.
    The bullying and misogynist arrogance engendered in the potential players, and all involved, created a quite intimidating environment.
    So many teens seeing only the possibility of the big $$, not recognising that some sort of application to their own education would make for a better future (even if just to stop others ripping them off if they ‘made it’).
    The only good thing about grand finals is less traffic during them.

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