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Stuart O’Grady is the right person to carry the Australian flag in to London’s Olympic Park for this week’s opening ceremony and the appointment of anyone else would be a token gesture.
Much has been made these past few days of the need for a woman to carry the Australian flag during the opening ceremony. One specific woman has not been named – simply that a woman should do it.
It’s notions like this which confuse the idea of feminism. It’s supposed to be about equality, whereas it has a tendency these days to be simply construed as women deserve more to make up for past injustices.
Make no mistake, women have been treated as second class citizens – and based on the travel arrangements of the Opals (the Aussie women’s basketball team, who flew to London in premium economy) compared to the Boomers (the male team, who flew business), in many they situations continue to be.
Furthermore, it is a sad state of affairs that, going in to the games of the 30th Olympiad, only three women have ever carried the flag for Australia. And it’s certainly not fair.
But does it seem fair that a woman be given the honour for the next 24 Olympics straight so as to even things out?
Raelene Boyle, the first Australian woman to carry the flag at an opening ceremony, certainly doesn’t think so.
“I would hate to think when I was selected that they’d said ‘Jeepers, we’ve never had a woman before’. That would make me feel very sad … and it would certainly cast a shadow over my credibility.”
Former Olympian Ric Charlesworth stoked the fire, reported in Fairfax media as saying, “We have had quite a few males in succession and I would like to see them give a female athlete a chance.”
But without giving specific names, Ric is just saying a woman should be out in front because it’s about time, rather than because one is the most deserving of the honour.
Names which have been thrown up as one of Charlesworth’s deserving candidates include Natalie Cook (beach volleyball), Leisel Jones (swimming), Sally Pearson (athletics) and Anna Meares (cycling).
Whilst both Meares and Pearson are two of Australia’s best gold medal chances, you could dismiss their claims out of hand on the basis of their relative inexperience.
This may seem a ridiculous thing to say about Meares, who has won gold and silver in the last two Olympics respectively, but there are far too many athletes going to the Games who have competed at the top level for longer, for a three-time Olympian to be given the honour and pressure of being Australia’s flag bearer and therefore figurehead.
Jones and Cook would seem better options due to being more experienced – London will be Jones’s fourth Olympics and Cook’s fifth.
However Jones will always have trouble getting past the reputation she forged early on in her career – as a spoilt brat. It’s why Lleyton Hewitt isn’t even considered an outside chance of carrying the flag.
Thus we are left with Cook. Competing in her fifth Olympics at the age of 37, seniority is not an issue, nor is the pressure of being the Australian team’s figurehead. Furthermore, she has won two medals in her Olympic career.
However her comment, “If a male carries the flag I will sit in protest,” would seem to have done her cause irreparable harm.
Regardless, let’s compare these four to the outstanding male choice, Stuart O’Grady.
O’Grady has competed at every Olympics since Barcelona in 1992 – making this his sixth consecutive games – for a haul of four medals.
Furthermore, after years riding as a domestique for Tour de France winner Andy Schleck, O’Grady decided the dream of riding for an Australian pro cycling team was more important than winning another Tour with his previous team, so left team Schleck to ride for Orica-GreenEDGE.
Over 20 years at the top of his profession and a plain showing of patriotism to ride for an Australian team. This isn’t to suggest Cook, Jones, Meares or Pearson aren’t just as patriotic but, put side by side, O’Grady is the more deserving choice.
Just as quota systems are seen as an unfair means of ensuring a fair go, the idea that a woman should carry Australia’s flag simply because it’s about time is flawed.
Let a woman carry the flag because she is a fine role model, has been at the top of her game of many years and is the standout choice.
But selecting a woman to carry the flag simply because one hasn’t for a while is neither fair on the man who may have done it, nor the woman who is given the token role.