By Ciaran Johns
Going to a sport-obsessed high school meant that any global sporting competition was to be watched religiously by every student in attendance. Friends of mine who supported Australia’s constitutional monarchy became the most republican people I’d ever met when the Ashes were on, the librarians would set up a television for us so we could watch the Summer Olympics during our lunch break, and you were beaten up if you thought it was unfair that SBS cancelled South Park to show a bunch of dudes in tights ride bicycles. However, the competition that seemed to have the biggest effect on my classmates was the FIFA World Cup. It was the only time followers of Australian rules would allow us to call the world game “football” and not “soccer”, a word that left a bitter taste in the mouth of those who loved the sport. It didn’t matter what time Australia were playing, people would be up at all hours to watch players pass the ball to one another.
This year, the Socceroos are flying to Brazil to try their luck against countries that see football as a way of life. They have been placed in Group B, which contains reigning champions Spain, the Netherlands, who are the runner-ups from the last World Cup, and an improved Chile.
While this seems like incredibly bad luck, it is nothing compared to what Australian football went through between 1970 and 2004. In 1969, Australia was playing Rhodesia in Mozambique and with the help of a local witch doctor, managed to win their last game 3-1. However, they did not pay the witchdoctor for their services, and for that, they were cursed. For over thirty years, Australia lived with the curse, losing ‘unloseable’ games, both home and away. Finally, in 2004, comedian John Safran ew to Mozambique and had the curse lifted with the help of another local witchdoctor and some good old-fashioned animal sacrifice. Miraculously, Australia qualified for the 2006 World Cup.
Much like when a WA AFL team makes the grand final, we can expect cafes, shops and local businesses to be decked out in the colours of the Australian Soccer team. Football fever will grip the nation until Australia is inevitably knocked out of the competition. God help us if they somehow manage to win. I can’t bare the thought of every football fan marching in the street to the tune of the team song. No doubt non-sporting fans can look forward to having a large amount of football propaganda shoved down their throat, as they try and hide away from it all. However, the World Cup is not the only global sporting event on people’s minds this year.
While it may not be a big deal now, Australia’s interest in the Winter Olympics is growing, with our country sending its biggest team to the event ever. Our past record came in 2006 when we sent over 40 competitors. Now, that record has been smashed with a new team consisting of 56 Athletes. The team also has significantly better credentials, and they are hopeful more medals can come from this. At the 2010 Winter Olympics, we had our most successful year yet, with two gold medals and one silver, ranking thirteenth out of twenty- five countries.
Two of the stars include Alex “Chumpy” Pullin, a snowboarder from Sydney, the 2013 world champion of snowboarding and who qualified for the Olympic finals in 2010. Skier Lydia Lassila will also be attending her fourth winter Olympics, having won the gold medal in aerials in 2010. With these credentials, plus a plethora of other talented winter Olympians, it is entirely possible that Australia can achieve its goal of making the top 15 and winning four medals in total according to The Australian.
Of course, the Olympics aren’t always about World Domination. Sometimes people do it for the experience. Ghanaian skier Kwame Nkrumah- Acheampong, better known as “the Snow Leopard”, was the first person from Ghana to ever compete at the competition. Born in Glasgow, Nkrumah-Acheampong says that “(insert quote here)”. Perhaps our preachy, self-esteem oriented primary school coaches were right, sport is just about having a good time. Although The Snow Leopard has bigger ambitions than this having made a number of donations to charities that build schools in poverty-stricken areas of Ghana and others that are attempting to save the snow leopard from extinction. He also hopes to encourage more people in Ghana to take up skiing.
If you still feel Australia’s ambitions at Sochi are kind of boring, perhaps you would be more interested in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Given that Australia’s last attempt at the Summer Olympics went badly with its lowest medal tally since 1992, it could prove an event for them to redeem themselves at. Although, it seems the event may be on the way out. No country has expressed any real interest in hosting the 2022 games. That would be just Australia’s luck, the team finding redemption for its poor performance in 2012, only to find that nobody was watching. Still, being better than 53 countries at athletics has to count for something… right?
International sporting events allows athletes to meet up, and test their skills on a worldwide scale, and in the case of the summer Olympics, global sporting events also allow athletes the luxury of getting laid. However, this does little to explain why we as spectators are so fascinated by them. It’s not like there is huge replay value in sport matches apart from the odd highlight, and as a country, Australians don’t really seem patriotic enough to genuinely think winning big at these events makes us a better country. Perhaps we look to them as inspiration, knowing that we could very well be crowned the best in the world at something. At the end of the day, what nobler ambition is there than global supremacy?