It has long been a bugbear of mine – the very narrow range of behaviour in which Australians expect their athletes to behave. Here’s a summary:
They can be confident, but only so long as they win. When you’re confident and you lose, well that’s just a bad look (right James Magnussen?)
They can be passionate but not TOO passionate. Because that’s crossing the line into Lleyton Hewitt territory and no one wants to be like Lleyton Hewitt.
They should be bubbly, but not TOO out there (god, remember Sally Pearson at the last Olympics?)
They should be stoked when they win, but not make such a big deal about it that they make the losers feel bad.
They should be gracious and philosophical when they lose, but not TOO philosophical because that means they clearly don’t give a rats.
And they should NEVER cry – god please don’t cry. You know what’s worth crying over? Starving children in Africa.
Giving the better part of your life to a single dream and devoting every waking hour to that dream and then failing to achieve that dream? You’re kidding yourself if you think that’s worth any kind of tears or emotion. Buck up matey, the next Olympics are only four years away, you can try again then!
I am not sure what is going on with our swimmers. Somewhere along the line they have morphed from being media trained to within an inch of their lives and trotting out the same homogenous tripe at every post-race interview to … ohmigosh, showing actual emotions. They’ve been dazed and aloof (Magnussen after the men’s 4x100m ‘debacle’) and they’ve cried (Seebhom after her 100m backstroke silver).
And they have been torn to shreds for this behaviour by both the Australian media and the punters on social media.
I understand that parents want their kids to watch athletes deal with all the highs and lows of competitive sport in a ‘sportsmanlike’ manner, but the reality is, it’s just not possible. They are human beings and if you’ve ever experienced an emotion (I am assuming you all have) you will know that emotions can’t be shoved aside in a millisecond.
Here’s a real life example for you. Imagine that you’re a female and all you’ve ever wanted is to be a mum. And you spend years trying for a baby. You see every fertility specialist in the country and you undergo every procedure known to man. You spend YEARS of your life pursuing this dream. Then one day your doctor sits you down and tells you this: “There’s nothing left to try, you will never be able to have a child of your own”. Imagine what you’re feeling.
Then imagine 30 seconds later someone shoves a microphone in your face and asks you for your thoughts. How composed do you reckon you would be? How polished, how ‘just right’ in your reaction?
Now I know you’re sitting there thinking “um big difference between chasing Olympic gold and trying to become a mum” but it’s not. It is a LIFE DREAM. I don’t think it is fair for us to deem that one life dream is more worthy than another. Consider the pleasure our nation gets collectively from an Olympic gold medal. Consider the pride we feel. Imagine now if we didn’t have athletes for whom that was a dream.
So what can we do? Well we can stop with the bagging of our athletes every. single. time. they don’t behave exactly the way we think they should. And for all the parents sitting their with their child when an athlete behaves a bit ‘off-key’ in a post-race interview, don’t quickly turn the tv off as you reach for your phone to have a crack at them. Instead discuss their reaction with your child, see what their thoughts are. Your child might surprise you at their sensitivity, perception and with what they take away from the situation. I think this is FAR more useful than pointing out the recalcitrant athlete on the tv and saying “don’t let me ever see you behave like that!”
So what do you think? Are you with me in thinking we expect FAR too much of our athletes? Or is it part of their job to behave within the very narrow confines of ‘appropriate behaviour’?
** NB: The above is not in response to any specific comments I saw on twitter or facebook.
It is more a response to the collective reaction I have seen over twenty years of watching sport in this country