It’s been a tough month not to be obsessed with sport. Not that I don’t occasionally partake in watching a bunch of sweaty men on a paddock doing unnatural things to a ball – but this last month has been bordering on the ridiculous. As a lot of people know, Australia is rather sports-crazed, and lately there’s been a major event almost every day. In fact our waning Prime Minister, who is constitutionally required to call an election any day now, has publicly stated that he’s too busy watching sport to even contemplate such a move. Here’s just a taste of what’s been going on lately in the wonderful world of sport, at least from an Australian perspective (to all those Americans in the audience you won’t know about any of these, but bear with me, we’ll get to you soon!): Twenty20 cricket world cup, women’s soccer world cup, Australian Football League grand final, National Rugby League grand final, Bathurst 1000 supercars and the Rugby world cup.
Perhaps my sensitivity to the quantity and cultural significance of sport at the moment has been magnified after having lived in the United States for these past few years, where things are very different. Now don’t get me wrong, I am well aware that there are lots of Americans ranging from interested to obsessed with sport (or “sports” as they would say). But the big difference is that, unlike in Australia, you can avoid it if you want to. For any event smaller than the Olympics, you could live as rich and fulfilling life as you wanted without any inkling of what was happening on that mystical paddock.
The best explanation I can offer is that American sports are all rubbish. Actually this also perfectly explains why no other country bothers to partake in them. The biggest problem is that, with the notable exception of ice hockey, American sports all involve stopping play every 2 minutes for a commercial break. Beyond that, each sport offers its own set of quirks. Their version of football has a promising enough set of rules, but the fact that the players apparently each have only one skill, requiring entire teams to be swapped out every time the ball moves, makes the viewing experience more like watching chess (except the players are wearing outfits that would get you beaten up in any other country). Their car racing involves going round and round a velodrome with no corners or hills. And before you counter with the fact that a game of baseball doesn’t take as long as a cricket test, at least cricket ends up with a total higher than the 2 runs I saw in my first live baseball experience.
But enough of this bashing (it is, I accept, far from sporting!). While sport is unavoidable in Australia, fortunately for me at least it’s not a religion (well, not unless you go to Melbourne). The most sport-crazed place I’ve ever been is New Zealand. And unlike Australia, where the list of sports and codes is insanely complex (try four different football codes divided by geography and season), in New Zealand they have one religion and It is Rugby. So imagine the reaction in this country when they got knocked out of the world cup, as they did last weekend (and yes, for the record, Australia also got knocked out!). Actually unless you’ve been there, I promise you can’t imagine it. It so happens I was in New Zealand 8 years ago, right after they were knocked out then too (and, for the record, Australia won that year :-). As an outsider, even from a place like Australia, it was truly bizarre. To give you an idea of how much of a blow this is to New Zealand, imagine how an American feels when their country loses a war, or a European feels when their country gets zero points in the Eurovision Song Contest. Yes, it’s that bad.
This is about the time I should get to the point of my story, but I have to admit that I don’t have one. But if I’ve been able to distract and entertain you for just a little while, even in a pursuit that is ultimately pointless, at least I’ve stayed within the spirit of the topic.