2013 AUSTRALIAN SOCIOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION (TASA) 50th ANNIVERSARY PUBLIC LECTURE
Presented by the Institute for Culture and Society
and School of Social Sciences and Psychology
University of Western Sydney
Sport: Scandal, Gender and the Nation
Professor David Rowe Institute for Culture and Society, University of Western Sydney
DATE: Thursday 12 September 2013
TIME: 5:30pm–8:00pm (including pre- and post-lecture refreshments)
VENUE: Jubilee Hall, Parramatta Town Hall
RSVP: 6 September 2013 to Christy Nguy at firstname.lastname@example.org
This has been a memorable year for sport, but not for reasons that would leave its followers with a warm, nostalgia-inducing glow. Sport has been beset with several celebrity scandals garnering global media coverage, including Lance Armstrong’s televised confession of doping to Oprah Winfrey, and the shooting by Oscar Pistorius of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Locally, the release of the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) Report Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport has been described as “the blackest day in Australian sport”. There have been many other controversies in which sport has been central or implicated, including the racial abuse of Indigenous footballer Adam Goodes, accusations of assault of women by sportsmen, and cases of alcohol-related violence and other misbehaviour.
Sport is routinely treated as integral to national identity. For example, Australian Citizenship: Our Common Bond, the official information booklet for the citizenship test, states that “Throughout our history, sport has both characterised the Australian people and united us”. If this proposition is accepted, a crisis of sport is also a crisis of Australian national identity. This public lecture addresses and analyses the sport-nation nexus, paying particular regard to two issues: the relationship between sport, gender and citizenship in view of the male domination of Australian sport; and the meaning of sport-based national identity in an increasingly demographically and culturally diverse Australia where identification with the nation through sport cannot be automatically assumed, and may be problematic. Discussion of these subjects will encourage sociologically informed public debate on one of Australia’s most cherished and flawed social institutions.
The mantra that “sport and politics don’t mix” was always false and misleading, but in the age of Twitter it’s absurd.
Calling for boycotts of high-profile sporting events is an established political tactic among social movements. The most recent case concerns the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia and the protest against new laws banning the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors”, which effectively criminalise the discussion of homo-, bi- and trans-sexuality with anyone under 18.
The omnipresent British television personality Stephen Fry has been especially active on the subject, even meeting with prime minister David Cameron in a London pub co-owned by revered actor and gay rights advocate Sir Ian McKellen. The campaign has received support from other prominent people, such as actor Rupert Everett, although a large-scale boycott is highly unlikely to eventuate.
Vladimir Putin has since signed a presidential decree banning all “gatherings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets that are not related to the Olympics and Paralympics” from January 7 to March 21, 2014. Special controls are always introduced in mega sport event zones, but Putin’s suppression of any public assembly that is not part of the official Olympic show is clearly designed to stifle all local dissent concerning gay or any other rights.
It is easier to boycott a brand than an event, with the Dump Russian Vodka campaign causing the Stolichnaya CEO to condemn the laws in an open letter and its website to pledge support to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) that awarded the games to Sochi and the principal Olympic broadcaster ABC have received similar pressure, including a petition from Athlete Ally and All Out urging:
…the International Olympic Committee and world leaders to call for the elimination of discriminatory laws that persecute the LGBT community.
Social movement mobilisation using the threat of a sporting boycott has a long, varied history. Despite urging, the 1936 Berlin “Nazi” Olympics was not boycotted by the major Olympic nations of the day; while a whole nation, South Africa, was boycotted by many sports and countries for over two decades during the apartheid era. This sporting sanction has been widely acknowledged as highly effective in isolating and weakening a racist regime.
Among the most contentious boycotts was promoted by the United States government and targeted the 1980 Moscow Olympics to protest against the invasion of Afghanistan. This prompted a retaliatory Eastern bloc no-show at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
Since then, and especially following the advent of the internet, mega sport events have regularly attracted loud media-directed protests and threatened boycotts.
The reason for using sport as a focus for political action is fairly obvious. Hosting global sport spectacles like the Olympics and FIFA World Cup involves vast expense and an enormous exercise in image management. Cities and nations compete vigorously to secure the prize, and the competitors seek any advantage, including direct or implied accusations that a host is unworthy to receive the honour.
It is believed, for example, that Australia narrowly defeated China in the 1993 ballot for the 2000 Olympics because some countries, with the orchestrated encouragement of the Australian bid team, were troubled by China’s human rights record.
Ironically, there were concerns that several African countries would, at the invitation of some of Australia’s aggrieved Indigenous people, boycott Sydney 2000. Also faced with a potential Aboriginal boycott – including calls for figurehead Cathy Freeman to refuse to participate – the Sydney 2000 Olympic Bid Ltd put considerable effort into closely involving Aboriginal people in the Cultural Olympiad, the lighting of the cauldron, and in the Opening and Closing Ceremonies.
Having learnt a bitter lesson, China left nothing to chance when next bidding for the Games in 2001, hiring Western public relations companies to soften its image. Having won the bid, however, China then saw worldwide protests and demands to boycott Beijing 2008, culminating in the nightly news fiasco of the Torch Relay passing through Europe and North America surrounded by heavy security and jeering crowds.
In neither case did a boycott ensue, but its threat is always potent because mega sport events depend on the sustained projection of universal human amity that, however flawed, cannot allow the illusion to be shattered by pointed absences. When these holes in the global sporting fabric occur, instead of highlighting the host’s advantages and positive accomplishments, unwelcome attention turns to their blemishes and failures.
Because such image battles are fought in the media, and mega sport is nothing if not a media spectacle, boycott calls are never far away. This technique turns the attention-seeking rationale of global sport event impression management against itself. Hence, in recent times there have been attempts to boycott:
the Euro 2012 football championship over political repression in co-host Ukraine
the London 2012 Games because of “NATO war crimes” in Iraq and Afghanistan
the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympics in Brazil because of corruption and mass evictions
the 2018 Russia and 2022 Qatar FIFA World Cups over gay rights.
There are many other examples.
With Australia hosting the 2015 AFC Asian Cup, and Australasia the ICC World Cup in the same year, it can be predicted safely that boycott calls will ensue over issues such as the treatment of asylum seekers.
Sport and politics don’t just mix – they’re married with children.
We’re about to reach intermission in the ten-part Ashes series. What have we learnt about the way we consume the sport of cricket as a social and cultural construct? EPA/Peter Powell
The end of the English summer beckons, and Act One of the current Ashes drama is reaching its appointed denouement across the Thames from London’s Theatreland at The Oval. The interval will last until the sun also rises high on the other side of the equator in November in Brisbane.
Individual cricket performances have come and gone across our television screens like shower squalls over the Pennines in northwest England, leaving behind statistical records and contested narratives. Televised sport has been revealed once more to be a curious synthesis of live theatre, outside broadcast and in-house studio production. Performers excel or fail before our eyes, but most of us were somewhere else, and so depend on camera angles selected by others to shape what we see, and on broadcast commentary to tell us what we have seen.
The game’s twists and turns are welded into coherent spectacle only as it unfolds. The script is still being drafted after the live performance has commenced. One moment, as during the washed out third Test and for much of the fourth, Australia seemed to have seized the initiative, and a new plot line of resurgence was underway. However, the clatter of falling wickets followed by defeat at Durham demanded an instant re-write along the lines of a false dawn or a dead cat bounce.
Media corporations are willing to pay very large sums to acquire the rights to live sport because of this very unpredictability and immediacy. Sport is one of the few forms of regular programming – apart from the reality TV confection that has increasingly imitated it – where the live broadcasting of history can be witnessed. Pivotal live sporting moments cannot be conveniently time-shifted or boxed for DVD viewing binges. They are all about the now – and popular real-time drama comes with a hefty price tag.
But if this is to be a price worth paying viewer attention is essential in order to maintain the healthy economy of the eyeball. Because live sport’s many large and small outcomes cannot be reliably predicted, spectator appeal must be primed and retained even if the events on the field fall short.
It is for this reason that athletes are turned into thespians, coaches into auteurs, and administrators into executive producers. There are plots and sub-plots, dramatic sequences and pauses, and characters with admirable qualities or malign intents. Because this rather bizarre spectacle has to be pitched at a high emotional register to draw in even those who barely understand it, the governing genre is melodrama, with notes of pantomime and farce.
Television sport isn’t generally classified as drama alongside the likes of Downtown Abbey and Underbelly, but it unquestionably lives and dies by its dramatic potential. Its principal narrative tension lies in the enduring conflict between competitive nobility and the ethical holiday of win-at-all-costs. A Greek chorus of commentators draws the necessary moral conclusions – but generally, like the teams, from the viewpoint of opposing sides.
Roles are assigned along conventional principles of archetype. For example, the dashingly heroic character played by England captain Alastair Cook can be drawn to contrast with his villainous teammate Stuart Broad, whose barefaced refusal to walk when obviously out revealed the ruthless streak of the congenital cad. Similarly, the immodest strutting of English batsman Kevin Pietersen may be neatly offset by the Dickensian humility of his Australian opponent Nathan Lyon.
Large-scale themes might also be introduced, such as one based on the back-breaking injuries of social class. Brawny fast bowlers like Australia’s James Pattinson and Englishman Tim Bresnan can play the proletarians mightily labouring, frequently in vain, to supplant the aristocratic elegance and languid foppery of batting stylists Ian Bell (the series’ leading runscorer) and Australian captain Michael Clarke.
Or the troubling body versus machine question, with its haunting spectre of technology rendering the human factor obsolete, might be evoked in the application of a battery of visualisation methods to legitimise or overrule the evidence of the unassisted eye. Here a nightmare world is portrayed, more Bladerunner than Howard’s End, where human inventions have turned on their inventors, aided and abetted by the unseen prosthetic hand of the mysterious third umpire.
The mise-en-scène extends far beyond the pitch. Transgressive offstage conduct is duly referenced, such as David Warner’s Birmingham nightclub swing at his fake-bearded opponent Joe Root, or Monty Panesar’s Graham Greenesque urination over bouncers on a Brighton seafront. The impetuosity of such public drunkenness constructs a rambunctious anti-hero figure who throws into sharp relief the soberly calculating bat-tamperer, secretly thwarting Hot Spot technology unseen by the camera phones of the night.
Such real and imagined displays of mortal weakness manicure the moral landscape of Ashes cricket. The next instalment of this allegory of glove will continue after a short intermission in deference to the revenue requirements of its impresarios, Cricket Australia and the England and Wales Cricket Board.
University of Tasmania, Australia Nicholas Hookway, School of Sociology and Social Work, University of Tasmania, Locked Bag 1340, Launceston 7250, Tasmania, Australia. Email:email@example.com
Morality is argued to be in a state of decline in the contemporary West. This article identifies two dominant strands of moral decline sociology: the ‘cultural pessimists’ and the ‘communitarians’. The article argues that these two dominant assessments of moral loss are underwritten by a set of assumptions concerning ‘society’ as the necessary source of morality and a disparaging view of emotion, body and self-authenticity culture. Drawing on Bauman, Ahmed, Irigaray and Taylor, the cultural pessimist and communitarian diagnoses of the moral present are critiqued as offering an overly pessimistic account of contemporary morality that ignores society as a ‘morality-silencing’ force and denies the ethical significance of self, emotions, body and therapeutic ideals of self-improvement and authenticity.
20 – 22 November 2013
University of South Australia
The Narratives of War Research Group Symposium will be held once more in November 2013.
Principal Guest Speaker: Dr Peter Stanley, University of New South Wales, Canberra; former head of the Research Centre at the National Museum of Australia and former Principal Historian at the Australian War Memorial. Prof Stanley is Research Professor in UNSW, Canberra’s Australian Centre for the Study of Armed Conflict and Society.
The title for the Narratives of War Symposium takes its theme from the way artefacts, diaries, media, art, music, memorabilia — letters, objects, the trappings of previous existence — indeed all manner of things, might be reflections and evidence of the traces left by war and conflict, and any aftermath and perhaps ensuing peace.
The Call for Papers has been distributed and is available on the NOW website
The NOW Biennial Symposium is also open to the community and aims to offer interested community groups the chance to participate in current research and writing by scholars and researchers who will offer a broad range of papers and presentations. A full program for the symposium will be available in September.
The caravan tour of the England-Australia Ashes series, spanning two hemispheres and ten Tests in the space of six months, now rolls on to Manchester’s Old Trafford ground.
The current series has so far been marked by Australian despondency over their early failures, English triumphalism, and an obsessive focus on the capability of technology to reveal what really happened accompanied by rancorous debate about player conduct. A royal baby may have appeared between Test matches to lighten the mood, but now it’s back to the serious business of sporting attrition.
The Ashes might display quaint touches of their Victorian-era origins, but sepia tones and quirky traditions cannot disguise the ruthlessness of the pursuit of victory. It may be a faux-naive question, but why should it matter so much to so many when sport – at least in its own cherished mythology – was devised first as careless pleasure and then as moral training for participants and spectators alike?
The mystery deepens when observing the apparent absurdity of sporting contests which, when reduced to their bare bones, are rather eccentric technical exercises in rule-bound physical play. As the fixation on regulating movement – in cricket achieving the status of “law” – intensifies, massive attention is focused on whether a small part of a ball or person was over a line, or whether contact between bodies was admirable play or a heinous offence. Technologies such as super slow motion cameras, Hawk-Eye, Hot Spot and Snickometernow take the finest distinctions of sporting space and time to their most excruciating limits.
The answers paradoxically lie in recognising that irrespective of the microscopic focus of coaches, conditioners, players and fans on the action, sport is plainly always about much more than the physical contest itself. Victory and loss compulsively extend beyond the field and the stadium. At stake for those who care – and even for those who are only half-watching – are communal prestige and bragging rights across suburbs, cities, regions and, especially, among nations.
Claiming as one’s own the best individuals and teams as measured by frequently narrow, even fluky victories in sport events enables ready extrapolation to other, more elusive achievements and characteristics. It is not just that a country’s sporting representatives on this or previous occasions are better than another’s as measured by the scoreboard. Winning at sport can be made to symbolise a superior way of life or even imply, for the racially inclined who prefer to ignore the global circulation of sporting labour, higher-order national genetic stock. The reverse is the case for the vanquished.
Sport stubbornly stands in for something else that is bigger and more resonant than the fleeting contest. When modernity produced bounded nation states and internationalism tried to regulate cross-border military combat, sport offered the ideal fantasy war game. When large public and private media organisations developed with the explicit remit of narrating the nation – and a professional sport media industry emerged to provide them with boundless purple prose – the recipe for shadow warfare was complete.
Sportsmen, in particular, were transformed in media-speak into “warriors” and “heroes”, selflessly putting their “lives on the line” and “going into battle” on behalf of a grateful citizenry. The hyperbole that habitually attends sporting contests inflates in tandem with the expansion of the print, broadcast, online and social media complex designed to provoke and maintain interest in the often-arcane action performed by a few for the many. The exploits of those whom the sport-phobic mock as “muddied oafs” and “flannelled fools” acquire epic qualities, embodying the nation and attaching their hyper-specialised fortunes to the common weal.
This popular emotional dynamic explains why, in the long-running tragicomic series of England-Australia sporting encounters, each party strives for rhetorical advantage. For decades Australia seemed to have the edge, operating with deceptively effortless efficiency a production line of sports champions out of its abundant space, sunshine and veneer of New World classless freedom. Many English sport fans, having artfully refined the gallows humour generated by perennial failure against the “Aussies”, bought the line that the loss of Empire was the historically inevitable precursor of loss of sporting self-respect.
But now the wheel has turned. England – or more accurately Great Britain, when sporting fortunes suit – is winning the cricket and has the Wimbledon men’s tennis champion (Scot Andy Murray) and back-to-back Tour de France victors (Bradley Wiggins and Nairobi-born Chris Froome). The British and Irish Lions rugby union team, a sporting marriage of convenience involving three devolved countries, another nation state, and a post-imperial power, has recently succeeded on Australia’s home turf.
Not only did Team GB, albeit with its over-representation of successful Scots acting as mobile pro-independence models, win more medals than Australia at the London 2012 Olympic Games, but the host city trumpeted that it had eclipsed Sydney 2000 as the “best Games ever”.
Australian sport journalists and fans now feel trepidation at having to face English counterparts still flushed with unaccustomed success. The British press and the Barmy Army are exacting revenge for the lost decades of loss. There is little prospect of escape from victory or defeat, and few on either side will question how willow and cork ever became weapons of a phoney war.