Australian sport in 2021: a bright year despite foreseeable dark clouds | Australia sport

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In his seminal work on nationalism, Eric Hobsbawm wrote that “the imaginary community of millions seems more real as a team of 11 named”. He meant this as a criticism – the line is taken from a passage where the historian described the use of sport, particularly football, to instill nationalist fervor in Europe during the interwar period. “The individual, even one who does nothing but applaud, himself becomes a symbol of his nation,” Hobsbawm added.

But in 2021, the power of sport for good was firmly on display. In the midst of Australia’s darkest year in decades, the sport has offered hope, fun and unity. While a majority of Australians were halfway to a deadly lockdown, the country’s Olympians and Paralympians delivered inspiration and joy in equal measure. Australia’s somewhat fragile imaginary community has manifested itself on the shoulders of its successful athletes in Tokyo.

And what a success it was. Australia’s 17 Olympic gold medals this year matched its best ever performance, matched only by Athens 2004. After falling in the medal table in London 2012 and then Rio 2016 (where the green and l ‘gold have won just eight gold medals), Tokyo represented a comeback for a historically dominant sporting nation.

In the pool, Australian swimmers enjoyed their best Olympic Games ever. Emma McKeon’s seven medals, including four gold, made her the most decorated Australian athlete in a single Olympics. A new golden generation has emerged before our eyes – Ariarne Titmus dethroned American Katie Ledecky as Queen of the Pool, while back supremo Kaylee McKeown made viewers cry as she paid tribute to her father recently died after each of his three gold medals. Only 21 and 20 years old respectively, the two men have distinguished careers ahead of them.

The Australians also dominated over the water, in rowing, surfing and canoeing. Owen Wright and Jess Fox offered lessons in determination and perseverance – Wright won bronze as surfing made its Olympic debut, five years after suffering what could have been a career-ending injury, while the Flying canoeist Fox won the gold medal that had eluded him for a decade.

At the Tokyo stadium, sprinter Rohan Browning approached the 10-second mark, while Peter Bol captivated the nation with his endurance over 800m and his eloquence in the spotlight. On the final weekend of Olympic action, the Boomers finally won Australia’s first men’s basketball medal, led by inspiration Patty Mills, who had previously become the first Indigenous athlete to wear the Australian flag during the opening ceremony.

Patty Mills is hugged by teammate Joe Ingles after winning the bronze medal match against Slovenia in Japan. Photograph: Brian Snyder / Reuters

He sensed, at least momentarily, that a divided nation had come together; to collectively celebrate victory, mourn defeat and appreciate the raw humanity of sport. “I am grateful to Australia,” said Bol after winning their semi-final. “We’re just humans at the end of the day. We’ve inspired the whole nation – that’s the goal.

While the subsequent Olympics and Paralympics offered a temporary respite from a difficult reality (plus, a few months later, a first T20 World Cup triumph for Australian cricketers), the joy did not last. . The high-profile dilemmas of the AFL and NRL vaccination mandate were not a distraction but a microcosm of broader societal tensions over the jab. One of Australia’s leading cycling teams accepted sponsorship money from Saudi Arabia as part of the murderous regime’s efforts to wash away its sporting image, while the Winter Olympians were left in a nasty position by the silence of the international and Australian Olympic committees on China’s human rights record in 2022. Winter games to weave in Beijing.

Just as Australia as a whole grappled with an allegation of gender and sexual violence – especially in parliament – a cloud of abuse and mistreatment lingered over sport as well. Six months before its parliamentary equivalent, the Australian Human Rights Commission published a report on the “systemic” problems of gymnastics. A lawyer who represented numerous athletes in the investigation called the sport a “petri dish for abuse”.

The Amazing World of Sport 2021: The Best Viral Music Videos of the Year - vidéo
The Amazing World of Sport 2021: The Best Viral Music Videos of the Year Рvid̩o

On the eve of the Olympics, Rio medalist Maddie Groves made allegations of abuse and mistreatment in swimming. More recently, an CBA investigation raised separate allegations of historic sexual abuse in sport. Football and hockey have also faced concerns over the high performance culture over the past 12 months, as an independent review found AFL club Collingwood had a culture of structural racism. The NRL continues to grapple with allegations of domestic and sexual violence against star players.

While it’s depressing to admit it, perhaps none of this should surprise us. We know, both anecdotally and empirically, that Australia has a problem with sexual harassment, a problem with abuse and a problem with racism. Just as sport offers a vivid image of our imaginary communities – an exhilarating mix of tribalism and nationalism – it also reflects society itself. We would be naive to think otherwise. If harassment is rampant in our parliament, why shouldn’t it be rampant in our locker rooms? Both need to be dealt with urgently.

2021 has been a year that has highlighted the best and the worst in Australian sport. The same can be said of Australian society as a whole. Hopefully 2022 brings more highs and less lows – certainly something we can all cheer for.


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