Coincidences, I’ve discovered, are so common that I’m starting to believe there’s some system at work behind the scenes that we don’t quite understand. It’s a bit like quantum mechanics – we know it’s there and we derive great benefits from it, but no one’s quite sure how or why it works.
So it was really no surprise when I recently decided to write a column about the way sport is undergoing a revolution than out of the blue I found myself sitting in for CityNews editor Ian Meikle at the regular 2CC ‘Sunday Roast’ interviewing the exact person I needed to put flesh on the bones of my story.
Here’s my beef: money is taking over sport; and it’s not ‘sport’ anymore; it’s just mass entertainment. The Australian cricketers recently went on strike to get a huge slice of the spectator pie. The Government gave Foxtel $30 million to telecast lesser known sports. A soccer player named Neymar commanded a transfer fee of $US263 million! And he’ll get $US53 million salary each year!!
That’s just the beginning – footballers of every stripe are getting massive payments; tennis players and golfers are getting so much that it’s doing their heads in. Just think Robert Allenby, Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic.
But who should roll up to the 2CC studios to defend recent developments in his sport but Alan Tongue, captain of the Canberra Raiders from 2007 to 2011 and recently named ACT Australian of the Year. ‘Sport’, says I. ‘has morphed into pure entertainment. Where once it was about the sheer pleasure of the game, now it’s so specialised and so demanding that there’s no room for anything else. And you have to start so young that there’s no time for the education that allows you to have a productive and satisfying second career when you’re forcibly “retired” in your early thirties.’
Alan put a different viewpoint. The ARL, he said, had recognised the problem and offered all sorts of courses for the players to undertake during their playing career. In fact, he’d gained so many qualifications that he was able to slip straight into a second career helping guide young people at risk back to the straight and narrow. And more than that – the Rugby League, he said, had taken the initiative to campaign against domestic violence.
‘There’s a paradox,’ I said. ‘League is a violent game, yet you’re campaigning against domestic violence.’
‘No,’ he said. ‘We don’t teach violence. We teach aggression.’
I’m sure he meant on the field rather than in the home. And he seems like a great role model and a fine mentor. In fact, he’s the perfect example of what can be achieved in that vital second career. But I suspect he’s the exception that proves the rule. You have to wonder how many of his comrades at arms end up the casino bouncers or standover merchants whose names decorate the columns of court reports.
The success stories take the headlines. Think Hussein Bolt, Liz Ellis, Rob de Castella, Kieran Perkins, John Newcombe, Ian Thorpe (after a very rough time), Ian Healy and many more. But they are just the very tip of an iceberg where, sadly, more than 90 per cent have sunk beneath the waves.
PS. Here’s another curious development: watch any American sport, from basketball, to baseball to gridiron and 90 per cent of the players are Black.