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The bankable brats and buffoons of Australian sport

By Michael Visontay - posted Wednesday, 16 January 2013


In an era when nearly all human pursuits are globalised and commercialised, sport is driven by two competing forces: the pursuit of unrealistic achievement and the need to always be entertaining. Victory at all costs is dehumanising, yet entertainment without competition is passionless - either way, we switch off, emotionally, and then with the remote.

This summer Shane Warne and Bernard Tomic, both immature to a fault, have demonstrated the tension between these ingredients. Warne is in the twilight of his cricket career, Tomic is just starting out on his tennis adventure. Over the past few weeks they've reminded us how commerce has hijacked the competition in sport.

Warne highlights what happens when entertainment trumps the contest. Ten days ago he engaged in a heated argument with West Indian Marlon Samuels, in a T20 Big Bash cricket match. The Australian was clearly heard on television saying 'fuck you, Marlon' before throwing the ball into Samuels' midriff in the act of returning it to the wicketkeeper. In return Samuels tossed his bat in Warne's direction, sparking more angry exchanges.

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Warne was fined $3000 and suspended for one match for breaching a code of conduct rule. He was fined a further $1000 for using obscene language towards Samuels, who was also charged over his role in the exchange. Both penalties were lighter than a feather duster.

Warne tweeted that he went 'too far' and accepted his punishment. But he then tweeted he had been harshly treated. 'I'm disappointed at the severe penalty I received!'

Would he have behaved like this is in a Test match, wearing no microphone? Would he have shouted at Samuels like this ten years ago in a one-day match? No way. The smash and grab of T20, with its ephemeral character, electronic gimmicks and meaningless results, is driven by one simple rule: whoever makes the most noise wins - whether it's by hitting sixes, getting out strangely, swearing, banter with commentators or body contact.

Warne's behaviour, his tweets and the wave of support for his punishment, reveal the game as a false premise designed to elicit attention-seeking behaviour for the TV cameras. They are templates for testosterone, in all its expressions. And if that is misdirected, no problem. Return to Go and start again, with a slap on the wrist.

Tomic, on the other hand, shows how talent and ambition, driven by a controlling parent, can turn ugly almost overnight. Tomic, just 20, is recovering from an annus horribilis in 2012. Having risen through the rankings, and shining at last year's Australian Open, he played too many tournaments, crashed out early in the big ones, and his world ranking plummeted.

Talent can only get you so far. Beyond that, success is about character, discipline and application.

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How did Tomic respond to that learning curve? He threw his father/manager off the court after a falling out, he was publicly accused of tanking in the US Open, was arrested for hooning around the Gold Coast in his orange BMW and later dropped from Davis Cup selection by Australian tennis legend Pat Rafter over his lack of passion.

This summer he seems more level-headed. Yet while Tomic looks to have recovered his mojo on the court, having won his first ever professional tournament in Sydney on the weekend, he still bears the scars of a selfish teenager. Last week, he publicly told Rafter where he could stick his Davis Cup plans.

Yet Rafter's commitment to mentoring young tennis talent in the Davis Cup is exactly the sort of offer Tomic could benefit from. It comes from the same wellspring of modesty that made Rafter such a beloved and successful player, who won two US Open titles and was twice runner-up at Wimbledon.

In his heyday Rafter played a muscular serve-and-volley game, and sweated so much he almost lost clutch matches through cramping. He aimed high, never gave up and when he lost, invariably spoke from the heart after the match. It says a lot about his 'brand' that a decade after retirement, he can model white underwear and we admire his character, not his crotch.

Some sportsmen know how to handle their testosterone. Rafter did. Roger Federer does too. Warne has spent his career playing a buffoon-genius, and now cricket celebrates the buffoon over the genius. It remains to be seen if Tomic can escape the pressure of his own ego, and show he has the right stuff.

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This article was first published in Eureka Street.



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About the Author

Michael Visontay is a former Senior Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald. He teaches a course on Sport and Media at the University of NSW. He can be contaced at mvisontay@iinet.net,au.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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