Why International Rules does not rule

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international rules: Australia vs Ireland. AAP Images

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I am, as a rule, something of a stickler for sporting patriotism. I do not stand for those who claim to be “Australian sports fans,” yet do not support Australian sports teams.

I have no truck with the “wouldn’t it be good for the game” brigade, who trundle through various sports whining about how it would be good for the game if their own country was to lose.

“Wouldn’t it be good for the game if the Kiwis knocked off the Kangaroos?” they’ll say.

“Wouldn’t it be good for the game if Australia stopped crushing these helpless losers inside three days?,” they used to say back when Australia ruled the cricket world.

“Wouldn’t it be good for the game if we were a bunch of feeble-minded little traitors?”

No, I am absolutely steadfast in my conviction that such people are not true Australian fans. They may be fans of something, but it’s not Australian cricket, or rugby league, or hockey, or whatever sport they choose to infect with their weak-kneed “sporting spirit”.

I have never, ever, ever, ever, EVER, wanted Australia to lose a cricket match.

I have never wished to see an era of Australian sporting dominance come to an end. I have never put the so-called “good of the game” ahead of cheering for MY team. Anything else I would consider utter madness.

Australian victory simply makes me hungry for more.

Watching other nations brought to their knees merely causes me to thirst for the sight of an Australian boot slamming into their faces.

So, given this dogmatic insistence that Australia is who I barrack for, and always will be, why is it that my reaction to the Australian “International Rules” team’s rather embarrassing defeat to the Irish on the weekend was, to put it bluntly, “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA”?

It seems a woeful inconsistency and an inexplicable crack in my pro-Australian façade.

And yet there it is – the “International Rules” team is the only Australian team I always want to lose. How to explain this?

Well, I think the first reason is that “International Rules” is, let’s be honest, not really a sport.

Think about a sport. Think about, say, cricket. When Australia plays cricket, where does it get its players?

Well, it takes its players from the best of those playing in the domestic state competition. And they get theirs from the best of those playing in the various local and district competitions.

And those players are taken from the players who catch the eye as they rise through the ranks of junior and club cricket, all the way down to the little nippers waving bats bigger than themselves.

And throughout this grassroots-to-elite process, at every level – and this is a very important point – the players are playing cricket. To cut a long story short, the Australian cricket team chooses its players from among cricketers.

And likewise, the Wallabies choose their team from among rugby players. The Opals from among basketballers. The Davis Cup team from among tennis players.

See the pattern?

And so we come to the “International Rules” team. Do they select their players from the elite in the domestic “International Rules” competitions? No they do not.

Because there isn’t any. The Australian “International Rules” team is made up of players who have proven their worth in a different sport altogether!

And they expect us to take it seriously! There’s no grassroots, there’s no junior league, there’s no state league, there’s no grade competition. “International Rules” is a game played for two games per year, by top-class performers in a different game.

And not even the BEST performers.

Because the AFL realised a while ago that Aussie Rules and “International Rules” were in fact different games, they don’t even pick the best-performed AFL stars for the IR team – they pick those who they predict will be best at the hybrid game.

But if we’re to take this seriously, why would we restrict selection to the AFL?

If we’ve actually decided it’s a “proper” sport that we want to win, and not just a sad attempt to make AFL look international, why don’t we actually try to pick the best team, by looking at all sports?

Why not pick Mark Schwarzer as goalkeeper? Why not throw a few more Socceroos in for their superior control of the round ball? Why not scour the rugby codes for powerful ball-runners and skilled round-the-corner kickers? Why not check out track and field to gain the most athletic and fleet of foot?

Why not? Well, we bloody know why not, don’t we?

But more than that, is the fact that the Australian team always comes off as such a bunch of bullies.

Big, gym-inflated, full-time professional athletes, super-fit pampered millionaires, going up against a bunch of accountants and shop assistants who play only part-time. Massive, muscly, battle-hardened experts in the art of physical contact, crashing into skinny little Irishmen who back home don’t even have tackling in their game.

Skinny Irishmen who don’t have marking either, yet are suddenly expected to compete in the air against these pros who not only do have marking, but who are also freaking giants by comparison.

Next to the size, strength, fitness and violence advantages, the piddling matter of a different-shaped ball pales.

And the Aussies play like bullies. They bash and crash and thump and bump and brawl to their heart’s content because they know they can, and they know the game doesn’t really matter.

And yeah, Steve Waugh’s team, say, could act like bullies too. But at least they acted like bullies because they were eleven international cricketers who were clearly better than eleven other international cricketers. If cricket had “International Rules”, it would involve the Australian Twenty20 team playing baseball against Fiji and then leaping around like they won the world cup every time they hit a home run.

And so what “International Rules” means to me as a passionate Australian sports-lover is a bunch of pumped-up bullies kicking sand in a 95-pound weakling’s face, in a sport with as much credibility as actual sand-kicking.

And I just can’t be doing with all that.

I’m so rock-solid behind any Australian sports team. But this ain’t an Australian sports team. This is just silly. Screw “International Rules”, and screw the Australian team. With any luck the Irish will rip ‘em a new one again this weekend.

Ben Pobjie is a writer & comedian writing on The Age, New Matilda and The Roar, whose promising rugby career was tragically cut short. The most he has ever cried was the day Balmain lost the 1989 grand final. Today he enjoys watching Wallabies, Swans, baggy greens, and Storms.

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