Everyone has heard of Sam Kerr. But Ellie Carpenter, Hayley Raso, Mackenzie Arnold … who knew them a month ago? The names of these women and their teammates are on the lips of people around the country. They have burst into our consciousness out of nowhere. The commentary has been endless – radio jocks, workmates, people waiting in bus lines or supermarket queues. They thrilled us with their triumphs – we won’t easily forget the 7-6 near death penalty shoot-out.
The whole nation held its collective breath before each kick was taken. We gathered the players to our hearts in their defeat and disappointment and complained endlessly about those ‘rough’ English girls and how they targeted ‘Sam Kerr’ and ‘Our Mary’ brazenly throughout the game. Nearly all 80,000 of us at the stadium stayed to clap them as they left the field, showing them in the best way we could how proud we were of them no matter the outcome. And we're still proud that they're now officially the 4th best team in the whole football world. (Psst - and, unofficially, sometimes even better placed.)
The Matildas have mirrored to us what it is to be our best selves. They are brave and determined during injury and can call upon untapped energy reserves and determination in fightback. They are humble, humorous, and even playful on the field. At their core is support for one another no matter the outcome. They rise and fall as one. At a time of hardship for so many, with discord and dissent echoing endlessly through the air waves, the Matildas have reminded us of the wonderful potential of our humanity. Sport can do that for a nation and Australia has often leant on sport to tell us who we are.
Australia is a sporting nation
Australia has made its mark in every sport, spanning mainstream competitions and the obscure. The Matildas' relatively lesser-known status before the World Cup is just a single example among countless instances of Australia's involvement on the global sports stage. In the Olympics, we consistently secure high positions on the leaderboard.
In the realm of lesser-known sports, one can almost always find an Australian team giving their all, whether it's in competitions offering a 'magic card' entry, sailing, shooting, ultra-endurance events, team sports of all kinds, and even the Winter Olympics.
What does this signify? It's woven into our culture to give fortuity a shot. We're fortunate to have an array of unique opportunities that span various domains:
Our collective resources allow us to pay attention to a wide range of interests around us
We're blessed with a rich diversity of interests and opportunities, fostered both by our culture and the plethora of nationalities within our country
Our landscape provides the ideal terrain for these sports to thrive
We possess the expertise to excel.
Although it's a challenge to compete with giants like China, the USA, the UK, and Russia in their specialised fields - due to their ability to attract top-tier coaches, access a larger talent pool, and offer more frequent competitions - we still manage to succeed on occasion. This showcases our persistence and capability despite the odds stacked against us.
For me, it signifies that we hail from a distinctive country blessed with inclusivity, opportunity, and an unwavering drive to pursue a plethora of sports.
But for the non-watchers of sport in Australia, for those who enjoy other pursuits, let's look at one contrary view of Australians' general uber-excitement over football's World Cup. For the following writer 'too much sport is always too much'.*
Our sporting nation
Why do we place so much emphasis on sporting prowess and winning in this country, as if losing isn’t an option and something to be ashamed of?
Is the attention given to sport a way of turning away from looking deep into the national soul, even into ourselves as individuals? As spectators all you have to do is sit back and not think too deeply about anything except beating the opponent, and then bragging about how great we are.
Live theatre, for example, bravely confronts issues that are shameful and not popular. All it asks is for you to suspend reality for an hour or two and delve into the complexity of our humanity, yet few Australians would ever bother to go down that path.
I recently saw a play which addressed racism against the Chinese on the Victorian goldfields in the 1850s. It was confronting theatre, but powerful and deeply moving.
What does it tell us about ourselves that we need to be seen as 'bloody brilliant' at sport but the rest can just be swept under the carpet?
Something to think about, that’s for certain.
* NB oblique reference to Roy and HG's 'too much sport is never enough' quip.
Texts by authors cited above. Photo by Wix.
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