Medical writer Ben Goldacre often laments the dumbing down of science journalism and makes the valid observation that in contrast to other areas of journalism, sports reporting is allowed to use technical jargon and complex language. He may or may not be pleased* to learn that the macho Australian media is bucking this trend in its reporting of the soccer world cup, which is currently in progress.
*I do hate it when people claim to know what other people would think about something, and I think Ben Goldacre would agree with me on this point.
You see, the blokey world of Australian sports media couldn’t care less about soccer. Or netball, or even the Olympics. Don’t expect expert commentary. Instead, expect to be told how bloody wonderful Australia is and how much bloody better we are than any other bloody country and how we bloody punch above our bloody weight in terms of population (although let’s not get into how well we do as a proportion of the amount of money we throw at sport). No, if it’s not cricket, one of the rugbys or Aussie Rules, the Australian mainstream media couldn’t give a shit for it unless Australia happens to be winning. Even then, they may not be bothered to learn the players names.
But the soccer world cup is on, so the major media groups have sent reporters to South Africa on the off chance that the Australian soccer team will have a few wins and they can run around hoovering up reflected glory and do a lot of gloating. Unfortunately, the Aussie team hasn’t had a good start. They got beaten by Germany 4-0 in their opening game. I’m not going to pretend to know a lot about soccer but although 4-0 is a biggish loss, Germany is a pretty good team. Australia could still turn its fortunes around and win the next two games to get through to the quarter finals. But the fair-weather fans in the Australian mainstream media have invested a lot of energy in anticipation of being able to gloat and now they can’t. They’ve had to turn their energy in other directions and call for the coach to be sacked. It’s good to blame the coach – he’s Dutch, anyway. Even worse, though, is the realisation that New Zealand also has a team at the world cup and their first game was against the team they had the best chance to beat. For me, it started slowly from an unexpected source – the following tweet by Mike Tomalaris:
For starters, I always object to the term ‘unAustralian’, mainly because it is the domain of children still learning to write to mix upper-case and lower-case letters in the middle of words (yes, multi-national corporations, it makes you look stupid). So I have no idea if it is ‘unAustralian’ to wish defeat on another team in the hope of salvaging some of your own pride, but it certainly would appear unsporting. This was followed up by some twit called Jack the Insider who was already jumping ship (is disloyalty ‘unAustralian’?) and deciding which team to support now. He settled on one definite thing:
Fair enough. He went on to say that confusing Slovakia and Slovenia could get you killed in some parts of the world. How I dearly wish one of those places were the immediate vicinity of a sub-editor’s desk. Then we would be spared the ignorance of pieces such as this splendidly bigoted piece by ‘Penbo’.
If there are heavily-accented jibes, that would be because you’ve earned them. If you’re trying to look clever by using foreign words and terrible puns, you would do well to do just a hint of research. The German word for team is feminine – die Mannschaft – and Czechoslovakia was a 20th century nation of convenience. Before that, despite linguistic similarities, they had a long, separate history with Bohemia (the Czech Republic includes Bohemia and Moravia) being part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and Slovakia under Hungarian rule from 907AD and later part of the Ottoman Empire.
But while New Zealand was too busy watching its own team to care less what these macho Aussie blokes think, it was good to note that these Aussie media types were shitting themselves. Bullies are like that when they realise they may lose a victim.
And then the worst imaginable thing happened. New Zealand had a win. Yes, just like the USA, they won 1-1:
This is just New Zealand’s second world cup appearance and at the last one, they lost all three of their games, so securing a point for a draw is reasonably considered to be the high mark of the national soccer team. The country is understandably pleased – they have been following the team’s progress and although not hoping for much, have been showing plenty of support and not just among soccer fans. The All Blacks trained in white in support of the NZ soccer team, whose uniform is white, and several of the All Blacks, notably prop Neemia Tialata, who definitely does not have a physique for soccer, have been supporting them for quite some time.
Seeing New Zealand happy must make the macho types in the Aussie media as sick as parrots* so it makes sense to regain some of that pride by belittling the Kiwis with condescending polls such as this one:
*I don’t know what this means but I see it used sometimes in sports reporting.
or this one:
But an interesting tactic was that used by the Sydney Morning Herald to gatecrash the party:
Come on the mighty Australasia! The last time I heard the word Australasia used in a sporting context was on Australian telly when that plucky Australasian tennis player Chris Lewis made it to the Wimbledon men’s singles final in 1983. Of course, he never really stood a chance against John McEnroe but we all watched in the hope that McEnroe would spice the match up with his temper tantrums.
Speaking of tantrums, the SMH’s headline earned the iire of the NZ public. That’s right, the iire:
They make it sound as if NZ didn’t make a fuss at all about pavlova, Phar Lap or Crowded House. Russell Crowe is a different matter – he’s Australian. Australia made him a National Living Treasure (the fools!). Except when he throws telephones, then he reverts to New Zealand-born actor Russell Crowe. But please don’t confuse my opinion of the Australian sports media with my opinion of Australians. Some Many Pretty much all of my best friends are Australian. Heck, even I’m Australian and I have been since 1988. And I’m pleased to note that unlike the dinosaurs in the Australian media, all of those friends that I have been in contact with have been very congratulatory about the NZ soccer team’s success. Even though soccer is quite fun to play in the park and enjoyable to watch live with an enthusiastic crowd, I do find it a bit dreary to watch on the TV so I won’t be catching many games of this world cup. I shall, however, continue to wish all the best to an ever-growing list of teams which includes New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Portugal, England and Switzerland. Probably Germany, too. And the Netherlands, mustn’t forget them. Because after all, (and because there always has to be a moral to the story) sport is about enjoying the competition, congratulating the winners and commiserating with the losers. Gloating can remain the domain of the Australian media.