When I was younger, I played Australian rules football. I could sell you the story that my wiry frame set me apart as flexible and speedy compared to the other muscled players on the field – but I’d be lying.
I remember a rare moment when I was in possession of the ball. Overcome with the novelty of it all I sprinted forward. In my periphery I saw two opponents hovering on both sides of me. They had caught up some time ago but menacingly let me continue running. It was at this point I dropped the ball and mid-run, I bent to pick it up. The next thing I remember was both opponents slamming into my temples. I was the unfortunate meat in a hip-and-head sandwich. Looking back, the white light that overtook my vision was probably not a result of injury, but instead the searing feeling of my brain permanently deleting any remaining interest in sport.
So when I see the news today that the Australian government is threatening to cut funding to sports by up to 20 per cent, I can’t help but think - big deal. Let me share with you a deeply unfashionable opinion: Australians invest way too much in sport, both financially and emotionally.
Each year AU$100m dollars of taxpayers’ money is spent on Aussie sport. You may say it’s money that is well spent on bolstering Australia’s international brand. After all, the buff, blond-haired surfer swanning around Bondi is one the most alluring Antipodean images. But the pride we feel for being “the sporting nation” is a deluded one. Statistically, Australia has the fifth-highest obesity rate in the world. In reality, Oz is more a country of sports spectators and our boundless adulation has come at the cost of celebrating more worthy exports.
By pure osmosis, I can probably tell you more about Ian Thorpe than I could about any of the faces on our national currency.
Here’s a simple example. Let me tell you the names of two Australian people and see which you recognise: Shane Warne and Howard Walter Florey. The first, obviously, was one of the world’s best spin bowlers. The second, a Nobel Prize laureate who pioneered the use of penicillin in medicine. One is venerated as a national hero, the other is barely a blip on the national psyche.
So to the Australians who are obsessing about the country’s recent dip in sporting prowess, about allegations of bullying and drug abuse among our celebrated game-players – perhaps avert your attention to indigenous unemployment, the dwindling health of the Great Barrier Reef or something else that tangibly matters.
Then again, what do I know. My head’s never been right since that nasty concussion.
Adrian Craddock is associate business editor for Monocle.