More Tragic Than Thou


There is more to sports than meets the eye. Governments have used sports to promote their agendas throughout the 2 0th century. Examples abound on the Left and on the Right.

It is now happening in Australia, and less covertly than most people think. Cricket is now the weapon of choice the oft-repeated mantra being that it’s Australia’s ‘national’ sport. But is it?


Cricket is undoubtedly popular, but in recent times its visibility has increased dramatically. It is not just supported in large numbers, it is also warmly and publicly endorsed by our Prime Minister. John Howard, a self-appointed ‘cricket tragic,’ uses cricket metaphors as a matter of course, attends the annual Sydney New Year’s Test religiously, appears crassly in the TV and radio commentary boxes for unusually extended periods, and enjoys being seen at the games. It makes for cringe-worthy viewing and listening.

There is, of course, more to this than cricket.

Howard does not attend soccer games the best the ‘beautiful game’ can hope for is a shot of him watching a match on TV, undignified, in his tracky dacks. It was not widely publicised that, although he was in London at the time, Howard (unforgivably) failed to attend the Socceroos’ game against England in London in 2003. Australia beat England 3-1, in an away game a feat that not even Brazil or Argentina ever managed.

Howard implausibly cited ‘family commitments.’ Would he have done so if Australia had been playing at Lords?

Let’s not mince words: Cricket is the ultimate bastion of White Australia. The Howard Government uses it eagerly to strengthen its fanatical goal to demolish ‘multiculturalism’ in the name of ‘integration’ (read assimilation). The message is clear: ‘We don’t care what you brought with you from wherever you came from, cricket is what you should embrace from now on.’ The message is unambiguous: cricket is the great ‘Australian’ passion, it is our ‘way of life’ and we have a Prime Minister presiding over it in front of our ‘people’ waving our flag and making pathetic jokes about Pommies.

You could be forgiven for thinking we were back in 1947.

The media feeds into this pseudo-nationalistic frenzy. The disproportionate and jingoistic coverage given to the recent Ashes Series should make us reflect on the insular nature of our society in the midst of globalisation. England is not a global sporting power. We are no longer a colony. Cricket is not, by a long shot, England’s main game. Yet, our media, and hence the public, have elevated a parochial series between an independent country and a former colonial superpower to the status of an ‘international’ contest.

In fact, for most Australian migrants, beating England at cricket feels like beating nobody at nothing.

Assessing cricket today, one wonders why in a country of migrants from every corner of the world, cricket should be pushed as the sport of the nation. Regardless of its merits as a sport, cricket is a dinosaur. It is played seriously by no more than 10 countries. It is totally ignored in Europe, laughed at as an anachronism in most of North America, wholly unknown in Latin America, unheard of in much of Asia and Africa.

Australia, England, the West Indies, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, White South Africa and sometimes Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. That’s ‘World Cricket.’

Thanks to Bill Leak

Unsurprisingly, other than Andrew Symonds (who is of West Indian extraction via Birmingham) there is not a single non-Anglo Celtic player in the Australian national cricket team. The ethnic composition of the Australian team of today differs little, in body and spirit, from the teams of 1932, 1948, or 1953. No other facet of life in Australia be it commerce, politics, academia or any other sport has been so abysmal at attracting new migrants.

Despite this, the Howard Government has made cricket an essential feature of its ‘Australian Values’ pledge (or should I say ‘wedge’?). The ‘Australian Values’ test as a compulsory precondition to the acquisition of Australian Citizenship which the Government is to implement as of 1 July 2007 is even said to include references to cricket in the questionnaire to be put to ‘foreigners.’ When questioned on this point, Howard did not actually dismiss the idea.

If implemented, this will be cause for international derision, but it goes beyond simple sport. It reveals a much wider strategy. The exaltation of cricket as the ‘national’ game reveals that Howard does not want migrants to integrate; rather, he wants them to assimilate by embracing the values of White Australia.

Of course, this policy will fail. Promoting migrant assimilation is both foolish and irresponsible. It creates its own antithesis by driving migrants further into their mental and emotional ghettos. Migrants won’t be interested in joining Howard’s mainstream if it is strictly defined by White Australia’s cricket, as they will have nothing in common with it. They are not going to take up cricket just because Howard thinks they should.

Australia is a multicultural country where roughly 25 per cent of the total population (and one third of Sydney and Melbourne) was born overseas. We are a country where there are more people speaking English as a second language than there are people living in the states of Queensland, Western Australia, and South Australia combined.

If the Howard Government is fair dinkum about facilitating the real integration of new migrants, they have lost the plot. Australia is a work in progress, and its identity will be built through the input of all Australians, old and new. The last thing we need is for our national leader to install himself as the curator of the national traditions of White Australia.

Instead of exalting the dubious value of cricket as central to our alleged national identity, policies should be put in place instead that build a truly national character around all the denominations that make up our unique multicultural mix.

Unless, of course, the Howard Government is simply more interested in winning the next election irrespective of the long-term damage to our social fabric.

But if that’s true, it’s anything but cricket!

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.