Stuart Thomas recently took on an unenviable task for The Roar, selecting the ten most inspirational moments in Australian sporting history. With so many to choose from, it led to many different opinions.
It also got me thinking. If they were the ten most inspirational moments, what were the ten most cringe-worthy? Like Stuart, I will count down my ten to one. If there are any I missed, please feel free to point them out.
As poor as it is, I’m steering away from physical assault here as, unfortunately, that could fill the top ten. I’m concentrating more on other moments, which were just embarrassing for supporters.
10. Nick Kyrgios – Cincinnati Masters 2019
In recent times, we have seen a different side of Nick Kyrgios. He kick-started tennis’ support of the bushfire appeal and has been delivering food parcels to the people most impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. He has rediscovered the love of playing for his country and performed well at the Australian Open. He may just have turned a corner.
It wasn’t that long ago that he hit rock bottom at the Cincinnati Masters in August 2019, to be precise. In a second-round match against Karen Khachanov, he was guilty of eight offences within the match, including verbally abusing the umpire and spitting at an official. He was granted a toilet break only to forego the actual toilet and smash two racquets.
To top it off, Kyrgios accused the ATP of corruption but later backed away from the claim. A four-month suspended sentence was handed down but Kyrgios took the time to rehabilitate injury and take some time away from the game, and he came back in a better mindset.
9. Sally Robbins – Athens 2004
During the Athens Olympics, Sally Robbins was part of the women’s eight in rowing. In the final, the team was third through the first 1000 metres but had dropped to fifth with 500 metres remaining. They were unlikely to win a medal.
However, what followed next was bizarre. With 400 metres to go, Robbins – who was exhausted – dropped her oar, allowing it to drag in the water, and lay down on her teammate’s lap. Not surprisingly, Australia finished last and the recriminations began.
She was labelled ‘lay-down Sally’ and the Sydney Morning Herald reported: “In a team sport such as rowing what she did was unforgivable. It appears Robbins committed the greatest crime there is in honest sport: she quit.”
Mental exhaustion was more the issue, but Robbins’ Olympic dreams were finished.
8. Bernard Tomic – Australian Open 2018
“I just count money, that’s all I do. I count my millions. You go do what I did (on court). You go make $13, $14 million. Good luck, guys.”
This, infamously, was Bernard Tomic’s quote after losing in the Australian Open qualifying in 2018. For someone who had been ranked as high as number 17, it had been an awful run downhill. But this quote alienated any support that Tomic had from the Australian public.
Tomic is still on the tour. You’d struggle to find anyone that cares.
7. Alex Watson – Seoul Olympics 1988
In a time when steroid use was notorious in athletics, it still seemed – perhaps ignorantly – that no Australian would be using performance-enhancing drugs.
But, in the Seoul Olympics, along came Alex Watson. Towards the end of the decathlon, Watson was in a strong position to medal. However, his manager Bob Barry pulled him out of the event and took him back to face the Australian Olympic Committee. He had failed a drug test for, of all things, caffeine.
In the days that followed, nicknamed the ‘Cappuccino Kid’, Watson was sent home from the Games in disgrace and it surfaced that that he was drinking ten to 12 cups of coffee in one day.
What didn’t surface until much later was that the test was flawed and Watson was cleared. But the damage had been done, and Australia’s innocence around drugs in sport had been tainted.
6. Anthony Mundine – October 2001
Anthony Mundine was a talented rugby league player and boxer. However, he has always divided opinion in Australia.
It was this quote, in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, that turned his country against him.
“They call it an act of terrorism, but if you can understand religion, and our way of life, it’s not about terrorism. It’s about fighting for God’s law, and America’s brought it upon themselves.”
Boxing is full of athletes who don’t mind getting heard in the media. Mundine was one of them and most of his banter was just that: banter. But this one went too far.
5. Fine Cotton – Eagle Farm 1984
It’s hardly Fine Cotton’s fault, but he wasn’t much of a racehorse. In a scam that brought down many of the big names in Brisbane racing, Fine Cotton was to be substituted with another horse.
This horse, Dashing Soltaire, was almost identical to Fine Cotton but suffered an injury. In urgency, the syndicate purchased Bold Personality, which looked nothing like Fine Cotton. In an amateurish effort, hair colouring and paint was used to reduce the difference in appearance.
Bold Personality won the race but the stewards were suspicious. Paint running down Bold Personality’s legs was a bit of a giveaway.
Bold Personality was disqualified, some big names in Brisbane racing were banned for life and Bill and Robbie Waterhouse were banned for 14 years.
4. Tim Simona – March 2017
Match fixing in sport is hardly new but Tim Simona’s fall from grace was huge because of the detail released. He was deregistered from the NRL, with Todd Greenberg reporting that Simona had breached the NRL rules by betting on rugby league matches, bet on opposition players scoring and against his team winning, sold rugby league jerseys through online auctions without passing on the full proceeds to the nominated charities, and been untruthful in his interviews with the integrity unit.
Simona had a gambling addiction and has managed to beat it. The NRL has cleared his way to return but, at 29, he has limited time to make his way back to first grade.
3. Australian tour of South Africa – Cape Town, March 2018
The Australian Test team had probably been descending into this for a while. In a tour in which the South African fans were at best patriotic and at worst abusive, Australia cracked.
The details remain murky, but its clear David Warner told Cameron Bancroft to work on the ball and his use of sandpaper would have been comical if it wasn’t so serious.
The television cameras caught it, the umpires saw it and all hell broke loose. Bancroft got nine months while Warner and Steve Smith got 12-month bans. Smith is unlikely to ever captain Australia again.
Australian cricket has come a long way since March 2018, but they were very dark days.
2. Peptide scandal – February 2013
Former head of ASADA Richard Ings said ”This is not a black day in Australian sport, this is the blackest day.” There were claims of organised crime and claims of drug syndicates.
The reality, of course, was not as bad. Although a program of banned peptides by Stephen Dank saw a number of Cronulla Sharks players banned towards the end of the 2014 season and the Essendon AFL club lost 34 players in 2016.
It wasn’t the blackest day, but it was definitely dark times for Sharks and Bombers supporters.
1. Australian one-day team – February 1981
The above incidents are all cringe-worthy, but only one resulted in a diplomatic incident.
The third match in a five-game one-day series was being held at the MCG. The series was tied 1-1 and the New Zealanders needed a six to tie the match.
Greg Chappell wilted under the constant mental pressure and instructed his brother Trevor to bowl the last ball underarm. It was like slow motion. Rod Marsh knew what was happening on the field, Ian Chappell knew from the commentary box and Australian fans knew it from their living rooms. We were all powerless to stop it.
The ball rolled down the pitch, Brian McKechnie threw his bat in anger and diplomatic relations between Australia and New Zealand were immediately strained.
New Zealand prime minister Robert Muldoon described it as “the most disgusting incident I can recall in the history of cricket”, going on to say that “it was an act of true cowardice and I consider it appropriate that the Australian team were wearing yellow”.
Greg Chappell continued to represent Australia but his legacy in the game was forever tarnished.