These are lonely days for Australian sports fans. Old friends are not visiting as often as they used to.
The Bledisloe Cup hasn’t been seen on these shores for more than a decade, while the Ashes prefer the home comforts of mother England.
And, like a jilted lover, the Australian sporting public is reacting with confusion and anger.
Increasingly, much of that anger is being directed at younger players, members of the much-maligned Gen Y who are seen as soft, pampered, overpaid prima-donnas.
This culture was brutally examined by Andrew Webster in Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald in an astounding hatchet job on Australian rugby, particularly on the ‘Three Amigos’ of Quade Cooper, James O’Connor and Kurtley Beale.
Among the more stunning revelations in Webster’s piece were the following:
– That the Wallabies were confronted in the dressing room by the head of the ARU, John O’Neill, after they had just been beaten 22-0 by the All Blacks in Eden Park last season, with O’Neill accusing 20 percent of the team of letting down the other 80 percent.
“That 20 percent are the same 20 percent who have their mobile phones in their hands right now,” he is reported to have said, among other damning observations.
– That Beale once told John O’Neill – his employer, let’s not forget – that he shouldn’t take a seat on the team bus, because “that’s Quade’s seat;”
– That the Three Amigos regularly hook up in Melbourne with Buddy Franklin, and that the ARU is apparently “concerned about the influence of Franklin on some of their players,” and;
– That James O’Connor is “usually the architect” of the trouble these blokes attract, according to a senior (although unnamed) ARU official.
The common thread to the above anecdotes, and to so many others involving these players – the burgers at 4am, the missing of Rugby World Cup team announcements, the tweeting about the “toxic culture” of the Wallabies – is clear: an excessive sense of entitlement and a lack of personal responsibility.
And while Webster’s piece, and much of the general anger directed at the athletes of Gen Y, focuses on rugby’s troublesome three amigos, cricket fans would likely be similarly frustrated at the attitudes of the likes of David Warner, Shane Watson and Glenn ‘The Big Show’ Maxwell, and NRL fans at the likes of Ben Barba, Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson.
That these young men are the highest paid in the history of their chosen sports, receiving a level of remuneration that far exceeds their achievements, only fans the flames of frustration.
Quite rightly, Australian fans see a sharp contrast with the champions of the past, many of whom received little or no pay, and made enormous personal and financial sacrifices to represent their country.
Further, there seems little understanding or acknowledgment from young players that their income owes so much to the achievements of those who came before them. Effectively, the modern player is trading on the enormous goodwill built up by those who wore the baggy green and the gold jersey.
Instead, some players seem to believe the massive pay packet is enough – that being paid like a superstar makes it so, and that a
bulging bank balance is more important than a bulging trophy cabinet.
So where to from here? How does Australian sport turn the gaze of young players from the mirror to the future?
Focusing on rugby’s three amigos, it seems that circumstance might be sorting them out already.
Quade O’Connor has expressed regret about his past actions, and has been welcomed back into the Wallaby fold under new coach Ewen McKenzie, a strong mentor who has shown already that he knows how to get the most out of his talented flyhalf.
Meanwhile, James O’Connor is still searching for a Super Rugby franchise, with all but one citing his disruptive attitude as reason for rejecting him.
Currently, he looks likely to have to crawl back to the Western Force, an organisation who abruptly ended contract negotiations with O’Connor when his demands were deemed ridiculous. It’s a significant and timely wake-up call.
Kurtley Beale looks to be heading home to the Waratahs, where the strong hand of Michael Cheika, among other local mentors, will hopefully be enough to keep him on the straight and narrow.
But, more importantly, all Australian fans need to recognise that there are good and strong servants in our national sporting teams, and hope they are the ones to establish team culture.
Men like James Horwill, David Pocock, Will Genia and Stephen Moore, who would not be out of place in the great Australian teams of the past, and whose hard work and general attitude is without reproach.
Because, if the pampered superstars are allowed to keep setting the tone, then it really could be a long time before Australian sports fans see old friends like the Bledisloe and the Ashes again.