Without being mean, the reported approach by our former PM Scott Morrison to be one of the Commissioners on the Australian Rugby League Commission is . . . surprising on several counts.
- From sitting at the head of the Cabinet table and heading off to the White House, to being a Commissioner under Peter V’landys discussing who should play the opening match of the season? Really?
- Beyond being adept at photo opportunities swinging his scarf around above his head at Sharks matches – who does that? – does anyone really think that Mr Morrison has serious smarts on league? As Nikki Savva has pointed out, when he first ran for preselection for Cook in 2007, he listed his personal interests thus: “Church (Hillsong Church, Waterloo), Family, Politics, Reading (biography, travel, history, Australian fiction), Kayaking, Rugby (Randwick, Waratahs), AFL (Western Bulldogs).” Rugby union and Aussie Rules, yes. Nary a mention of League.
- Who thinks, the public will embrace it and think the better of league for his appointment? When the news broke, one of the Twitterati, @DrAMVRostramAO cut straight to the chase: “Just what the #nrl needs. More misogynist bullying blustering blokes. The next ARL Commissioner should be a progressive woman.”
Yup, I know, calling Mr Morrison a misogynist blustering bully is a bit on the unnecessarily unkind side of things. But the very skills, abilities, and “brand” if you will, that took Mr Morrison all the way to the Lodge, are hardly the ones the NRL and CEO Andrew Abdo need right now.
Oh, stop it. Name the progressive policy that Mr Morrison squired in, the one that looks like the future? I’ll wait. His whole political schtick was “let’s go back”, and for a long time it worked well, politically. But in the corporate and professional sporting world? That approach is death at box office and the cash register.
There were many reasons that the LNP lost twenty seats at the last election but – whether you like it or not – a huge chunk of the Australian public really did regard him a throwback to 1952. This is not to say the ARLC won’t take him on board.
But they can do better.
Hard to watch, impossible to avoid
Well, this is difficult. On the one hand, Nick Kyrgios is the talk of the town for reaching his first Wimbledon Final. On the other hand, he is to face court after allegedly assaulting his former partner, in a domestic dispute late last year.
Let’s separate the issues.
On the first, bravo Kyrgios. Love him or hate, love/hate him, he is playing the best tennis of his career, consistently pulling off shots that others can barely conceive of, let alone do – and there must be some satisfaction in at last achieving something of his always stunning potential.
Even his most bitter critics acknowledge that his is a talent like no other, and as it was put by Matt Futterman in The New York Times this week, he is “a dangerous and disruptive force who has so much pure talent, but is so temperamental and combustible, and so drawn to, and disgusted by, his chosen profession that the sport can neither control him nor ignore him . . . He is at once the sport’s worst nightmare and its meal ticket: hard to watch but also hard not to.”
Credit:Illustration: John Shakespeare
On the second matter, it goes without saying that he can be presumed innocent until such times as he might be found guilty. The allegations are shocking. Some have sought to minimise the gravity of the charge by pointing out that on the scale of domestic violence assault the allegation against him is on the lower end – grabbing, as opposed to hitting.
In response, I am reminded of the Hollywood actor Matt Damon seeking to make the point in the face of everything emerging from the #MeToo movement that there were gradations when it came to the seriousness of sexual harassment and sexual assault, that some kinds are more grave than others.
He was quickly buried in backlash, with the point being made to Damon from all sides in return that all kinds of sexual assault and harassment are serious and he quickly climbed down, apologised and said he had realised this was a time for men to be listening, not speaking. For his part Kyrgios, via his lawyer, has acknowledged the seriousness of the charges and noted that he takes it very seriously needed.
All up, the whole thing – the duality of genius play coming at the same time as shockingly ugly headlines – is quintessential Kyrgios. It is without precedent at Wimbledon and I suspect without precedent in modern tennis. How it will play out, we know not.
He has talked openly of his struggles with mental health, up to the point of saying that he contemplated suicide in 2019. (Lifeline 13 11 14) Whatever his guilt or innocence of the assault charge, there is no doubt he is a turbulent soul to a level rarely if ever seen in Australian sport. Can you think of anyone else in our sporting history remotely like him? Me neither.
The whole thing – in the sense of the mix of fantastic and very ugly headlines at the same time – is just so very, very Kyrgios. “Hard to watch but also hard not to.”
White’s not alright at SW19
And speaking of difficult, gentlemen, bring it in tight. Very tight. Just us. An interesting issue arose this week in women’s sport that I had absolutely no clue about. The Australian women’s tennis player Daria Saville told my journalist daughter, Billi, that “It’s true, I myself had to skip my period around Wimbledon for the reason that I didn’t want to worry about bleeding through. We already have enough stress.”
It has led to half-a-dozen or so articles on the subject, including in the Herald.
I know, right? Che?
Well, it turns out that the Wimbledon all-white dress code established by males a century ago is an absolute nightmare for women when it is that time of the month. Why discuss such a delicate matter out loud? Because – I am very firmly told by women – it is males turning away saying “I don’t want to discuss or even know about icky things,” that has kept such a ludicrous rule in play for 100 years. How hard can it be to change the all-white rule for women?
Issue with their periods is clearly something women in sport want to talk about more openly. Just a couple of months ago, after NZ’s Lydia Ko finished tied for third in her quest for her 18th LPGA Tour title she explained to the live TV audience, “It’s that time of the month.”
When the male interviewer blanched, she laughed.
“I know the ladies watching are probably like, ‘yeah, I got you’. So when that happens my back gets really tight and I’m all twisted . . . So, yeah, there you go.”
“Uhhh … thanks,” the interviewer, Jerry Foltz said.
“I know you’re lost for words Jerry …. honesty it is.”
Honesty it is. Gentlemen, in my ignorance, I had no idea of the first issue, and less idea than I should have on the second issue. If you are the same, consider yourself, like me, now better informed.
Cummins to help make a difference
A decade ago, after breaking down yet one more time, the young tearaway fast bowler Pat Cummins knew who to turn to for advice when he went to the legendary Dennis Lillee.
Australian captain Pat Cummins waves to fans in Sri Lanka.Credit:AP
Lillee diagnosed the problem, gave him great bowling and life advice that set Cummins on his way, and both men went on to live happily ever after – Lillee as the enduring cricket legend of his time, Cummins as great fast bowler and Australian cricket captain.
There is a certain symmetry, thus, in Cummins being the guest speaker at The Chappell Foundation’s Annual Dinner at the SCG on August 10 given that Lillee is one of the esteemed patrons of the foundation, which supports seven other frontline charities in ameliorating youth homelessness. TCF has raised $4 million in the past five years, despite the pandemic, for their charity partners’ work. If you’d like to attend, google and go-go.
What They Said
The NYT’s @MattFutterman on Nick Kyrgios: “And then there is Kyrgios, a dangerous and disruptive force who has so much pure talent, but is so temperamental and combustible, and so drawn to, and disgusted by, his chosen profession that the sport can neither control him nor ignore him … He is at once the sport’s worst nightmare and its meal ticket: hard to watch but also hard not to.”
Stefanos Tsitsipas, after losing to Nick Kyrgios: “It’s constant bullying; that’s what he does. He bullies the opponents. He was probably a bully at school himself. I don’t like bullies. I don’t like people that put other people down. He has some good traits in his character as well, but … he also has a very evil side to him, which if it’s exposed, it can really do a lot of harm and bad to the people around him.”
Kyrgios after beating Tsitsipas: “Everywhere I go I’m seeing full stadiums. The media loves to write that I am bad for the sport but clearly not.”
@Wimbledon on #Kyrgios: “Unscripted. Unfiltered. Unmissable.”
Usain Bolt on his stint as a soccer player with the Central Coast Mariners: “I made a mistake. When I retired from track and field, I didn’t want to stay in Europe because of the media. I went to Australia, but the level of football there wasn’t good. I should have stayed in Europe. After a year of trials I just said, you know what, let’s just move on from that. So I moved on.” In fact, he played two ordinary games, and didn’t come back from a holiday.
Wallabies legend Mark Ella.Credit:Getty
Veteran soccer scribe Ray Gatt in reply to Bolt: “He couldn’t keep up during training sessions. His touch was terrible, positioning awful. Out of his depth.”
UK Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries in a speech promoting the Rugby League World Cup coming in – who knew? – November: “I’ve always quite liked the idea of rugby league. My long-standing memory is that 2003 drop-goal. We were drinking Bloody Marys at the time. Wow, what a moment that was.”
Dorries, later on Twitter. “Like Jason Robinson I may have switched codes in my speech.” Genius comeback line, but highly unlikely it was written by her.
Mark Ella on the Captain Cook trophy being renamed Ella-Mobbs: “I said ‘obviously you’re talking about my twin brother Glen and my younger brother Gary? As we all played rugby for Australia’. [Rugby Australia] said ‘no, there’s an Englishmen who played in the early 1900’s whose name is “Mobbs”.’ I’d immediately thought ‘mob’, as in part of the Aboriginal community.”
Robbie Williams on playing at this season’s AFL Grand Final: “I’m so excited to be performing for you on the hallowed turf of the MCG. I can’t wait to see you all on the last Saturday in September, performing at the greatest sporting event in the country. Nay, the world.” Is it me, or does that sound like it was written by the third PR person from the left?
Australian pitcher for the Chicago White Sox, Liam Hendriks, on yet another US mass shooting: “I can walk into a store as a non-American and buy a handgun in certain states. That baffles me. I had to take a driving test when I was over here. I won’t have to take a test if I want to get a gun. That’s stupid. Whoever thought that was a great idea is an idiot.”
Simon Clarke after his stage win in the Tour de France shows he can also mix metaphors with the best of them: “All year this season, I’ve come out in every race swinging.”
Clive Woodward reaches for the long handle, on his successor Eddie Jones: “England have been on a downward spiral since the 2019 World Cup final and defeat by a 14-man Australia side in Perth did nothing to change that. That fact is clear to anyone who has a real passion for English rugby.”
Team of the Week
Simon Clarke. The 35-year-old Victorian, riding for Israel-Premier Tech won Stage 5 of the Tour de France, the first such stage victory for the veteran in his career.
Stage winner Simon Clarke is congratulated by a teammate.Credit:AP
Nick Kyrgios. At the end of a typically turbulent week, the Canberran is into the Wimbledon Final.
Wallabies. Recorded great win over England in First Test, in a match that was spectacularly dull in first half, and fabulous in second half.
Cadeyrn Neville. Making his debut for the Wallabies at the age of 33, in the second row, he played a cracker.
Jordan Petaia, at the age of 19, was also a stand-out. (Next time I see you, remind me to tell you the story of once sharing a lift with Declan Curran and David Knox, with a similar age gap, as we headed to Ballymore.)
Iga Swiatek. Her 37-match winning streak where she won six straight tournaments including her second French Open title is over. And I don’t mean this unkindly, but is she sort of the least known World #1 since Lindsay Davenport?
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