28 August 2023

Is sport the last safe space for a verbal argument?

| Ross Solly
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man punching a fist coming out of a computer screen

No matter how fast the world hurtles to hell in a handcart, sport still captures the imagination. Image: Erhui.

First and foremost, let me declare – I love sport.

Currently, I’m on the other side of the world, commentating and reporting on a sport that I dig with a passion – canoeing. When I tell people this is my real job, they often laugh. I always make sure I send them pics from wherever I am in the world at any given time, just to add to the humour. Previously, I was a sports journalist and editor and ran my own consultancy providing media advice to a whole raft of sports (no pun intended).

I tell you this to put my next question into context: do you ever think sport dominates our life just a little too much? And if so, is that a bad thing or a safe outlet in a world where there seems to be so much pent-up anger and bitterness about other much more ‘important’ issues?

For the record, I don’t.

But I do sometimes wonder, when there is so much crazy stuff happening in the world right now, when we are standing on the edge of the doomsday cliff peering out into the darkness, how we can always rely on an errant umpiring decision or a misguided Spanish football president to bring us back to earth.

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All week, we have been hearing about the poor AFL goal umpire who thought he heard something above the roar of 30,000 fans, which led him to make a decision that appears to have been wrong and, in the process, he has inadvertently played a major part in shaping the teams who will contest this year’s AFL finals.

And then there’s the tale of Spanish football president, Luis Rubiales. It’s fair to say Mr Rubiales is a colourful character who also seems to have a fairly loose grasp of the fact it is now 2023, and planting a kiss on the lips of one of your star female football players is not acceptable at any level.

The resulting uproar has been heard around the world. Eventually it got through to Mr Rubiales, who had also been grabbing at his groin as part of some bizarre celebration move when the women’s team clinched the football World Cup.

How sorry do we feel for the poor Spanish team, who last week won their first-ever World Cup, a feat that is now buried beneath headlines and condemnation of the behaviour of a previously unknown Spanish sports official?

Are these two of the biggest stories going around right now? Probably not, but my goodness, we’ve all got an opinion on them. And for many of us, sport seems a much safer space to have differences of opinion or strong discussions than politics or other social issues.

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It seems pretty obvious people have been turned off debating the Voice to Parliament because it’s become too darned toxic. We don’t feel comfortable talking about climate change or the cost of living because it quickly gets overtaken by keyboard warriors who love nothing more than a social media pile-on.

So we revert to talking about goal umpires and Spanish football presidents. These discussions can get feisty as well, but it seems much more Australian to have a ding-dong verbal sparring match about sport than anything else.

And these days, it’s much safer.

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