Some day the virus will be gone, and our sporting lives will return to normal. Manly and Melbourne will again battle it out for the honour of being the NRL’s most hated club. Collingwood supporters will still be the butt of jokes of their fellow AFL fans. Multitudes will again, cruelly and not completely accurately, complain about how crap the A League is. But will things return to normal? Will the Matilda’s still make our hearts flutter? Will Ash Barty remain Australia’s most popular export? Will Davis Cup supporters continue to embarrass the rest of the nation by making piggy-piggy-piggy oink-oink-oink noises? Maybe not. Maybe the world will be so fundamentally transformed, as it recovers from the current crisis, that the world of sport, in twelve months’ time, will be unrecognizable.
It’s not just a question of which professional sports and sports clubs will remain after an enormous economic downturn. There is also the issue of whether the average punter will even care about professional sports at all. Perhaps hearing NRL Players Association representatives claiming that Rugby League players will not be taking a pay cut will turn many against the modern world of pro sports, (as it was). Maybe the future world of sport will be more about ordinary people and the way they choose to live their sporting lives. Maybe sports will turn back to communities and grass roots.
To get to the bottom of these important philosophical issues (and to get some discussion going) we decided to have a chat with a bunch of thinkers – thinkers who have always shown an interest in the world of sport. We wanted to challenge the imaginations of sports philosophers and to prod them into painting us a picture of where our sporting lives will be a year from now. Will they get even close? Fuck knows. But who cares? It’s interesting to think about.
Our first philosopher is the good-looking bloke who proved to us that Rugby Union back row forwards are not always brain-free. Eloquent best-selling author, journalist, republican, Wallaby and wearer of unusual head adornments and scruffy face-fluff and part-time sports philosopher Peter Fitzsimons, agreed to chat.
Socrates: Is there a new world of sport coming?
Peter: Interesting question. In our lifetimes I think there will be three periods of history – pre-corona… corona… and post-corona… that will apply to sport. And I think we will look back upon the days… well seriously… talking about the stadiums (without banging on too much about stadiums) as pre-corona. We want to spend three billion dollars on sport, knocking down perfectly good venues – yup, no problem at all – and it was accepted by the people – they went to the election saying we are going to knock down three stadiums and spend three billion dollars (on venues) which you don’t need and we will have state of the art facilities for sports. Sport will be first in the queue. Obviously during corona – no sport at all. But post corona, I think the political paradigm will have changed. The idea that sport should be at the front of the queue when there will be so many people in severe need it will be just ridiculous, and I think that they will become shocking white elephants. And they will be spending one hundred million dollars to put an electronic curtain up (also a pre-corona phenomenon) – let’s spend a billion dollars, oh and lets spend another hundred million dollars so that we can put up an electronic curtain so that no one can see that there is no one at the game. Oh, for fuck’s sake!
Some indulgences just won’t survive
In terms of other sports, I feel like there will be indulgences that just won’t survive it. Any financially weak rugby league club cannot possibly come through this. Financially weak rugby franchises cannot survive this. The world of professional rugby will take a major hit. The six nations will come back. They have a long tradition there. But super rugby was just about dead anyway. How they will emerge from this? At the moment the problem that rugby’s got in Australia is they are a banana shop, selling bananas, living off bananas and they have no bananas to sell… and they won’t have any bananas to sell any time in the next twelve months. And that would be best case. When you’ve got the financial providers (who are Fox Sport) at the moment… will Fox Sport come in when this is all over? Fox Sport lost twenty people the other day. They made twenty people redundant! They have already shut down rugby shows. With things like that already going on, it looks like the world of sport will contract a great deal. With that contraction there will be a fair few people, a fair few clubs and one or two sports left badly behind.
Socrates?: How will people in communities react in their own sporting lives?
Peter: I remember back twenty-five years ago I was very much involved in the Wallaby culture. I was a recently retired Wallaby and the Super League war came up… which threatened the Wallabies! At one point there – well I cherished the Wallabies – to the point where I felt that the Wallabies that I knew and loved were going to be snatched away! I realized then, just how much I loved the Wallabies. As it turned out everything came good and everyone lived happily ever after until now. But I think a lot of people would look at sport – (well for me, these days sport is the pepper and salt of my life but its not my main meal by any means) but for a lot of people sports is one of the great joys of their life. Whether Collingwood does or doesn’t win on the weekend genuinely effects their mood… their whole view of the world for the next week or two. If Collingwood wins the grand final that’s the finest year they have ever known. I may not live my life like that, but a lot of people do live like that and it will be a big gap in a lot of people’s lives with no sport to watch, follow, discuss. People will realize how much they cherish it.
Socrates: I wonder if there won’t be a swing away from globalism and national leagues back to community sports?
Peter: That is an interesting comment. I am part of two small but very important sporting communities. That is, I play basketball with my mates on Wednesday night – with the Lizards. I have played with them for twenty-five years! Come to think of it, its three sporting communities that I am part of.
“I think that as the world recovers people will cling to local much more than they will go to global.”
Three times a week I play touch footy with my mates down at Balmoral oval. The other one is that I play tennis. They are all very important in my life! We are all sort of checking on each other. You know. How ya going? How is your family? How is work going? Particularly my touch football group. We are sixty guys – all of us local and it is a hugely important local community. It’s a structure! I don’t know the neighbours who live on either side of me, but I know really well sixty guys who live around Balmoral. And yeah! I think that’s very interesting. I think that as the world recovers people will cling to local much more than they will go global.
But I must say in terms of global – there was a brilliant piece in the Herald the other day – in fact I wrote it – about how well the NBA took one look at a positive test and within ninety minutes shut down the entire competition. Game over. Gone. Then you have the NRL. Stuffing around – and the AFL… and the A League… stuffing around – stuffing around for two weeks trying to keep alive a competition that was clearly dead from the moment corona virus took off.
Socrates: Is there something we can do to contribute to a better world of sport in future?
Peter: Yes. Follow Craig Foster! He’s emerged as quite a leader. He has launched a program whereby sporting communities can be volunteers to assist people who need it in the coming crisis. He’s one to watch!
Thanks to Peter Fitz for his thoughts. Short but sweet! While he doesn’t paint a grand picture of new sports, new competitions, new athlete superstars and new wonder teams emerging in some future golden age of sport he hints that sport will need to move in a very new direction… a direction based on the needs of people. He gives a clear impression that he believes a future world of sport will not have room for indulgency. The spending of massive amounts of money and resources on unnecessary sporting infrastructure because some believe that there is a “business case” for it and the propping up of unsuccessful, unwanted, unneeded and poorly managed competitions, sports and teams will stop because, in world where real people have real needs, such frivolity will be considered unsustainable and thus, rejected by the community. Communities will demand that sporting and health expenditure, in the future, be based on the real needs of people.
In summary, Peter believes that the corona virus will have given us all a huge shake up and provided us with a much clearer picture of what things are really important. What things really matter. Our re-examining of priorities will have a huge impact on how we play and how we watch our sport.