Australians love their sport and, as we all know, they are very good at it. But the evidence is mounting that their proud record is being sullied by the unavoidable conclusion that there is something seriously wrong with Australian sport.

The most recent evidence to support this thesis came in this month's first cricket test between Australia and South Africa. David Warner's scuffle with a South African player, and Nathan Lyon's bizarre and nasty action, having run out the South African A.B. de Villiers, in appearing to drop the ball on his face as he lay on the ground, came in the wake of a series of similarly unpleasant moments, many of them involving cricket.

We do not need to go back far to recall the "underarm bowling" incident that involved our own cricket team and it was, after all, the Australians who invented the term and the practice of "sledging" - the use of constantly repeated nasty and personal remarks designed to unsettle one's opponents. This practice - which has now become something of an art form, and is defended as a legitimate element in Australia's game-day strategy - is not restricted in Australian sport to cricket; indeed, it reached its high (or perhaps one should say low) point when Nick Kyrgios, the notoriously badly behaved Australian tennis player, remarked to an opponent as they crossed at the net in a close match, that he should know that his girlfriend had slept with another named player.

What is disturbing about these incidents is that they are not just lapses on the part of wayward individuals but seem to be endemic in, and part and parcel of, the underlying attitude to sport in Australia. So important has sporting success become to the Australian psyche, it seems, that "anything goes" as long as the victory is secured.


Most Australians would dismiss any talk of "fair play" or of "the spirit of the game" or of "sportsmanship" as the talk of "losers" or, at best, hopelessly old-fashioned. A deliberate aggressiveness is thought to be the key to success and, when victory is won, an excessive triumphalism is expected as the appropriate Australian response.

And, if a David Warner or Nick Kyrgios is criticised for bad behaviour, most Australians would defend them and their actions as long as they win - indeed, as with sledging, the bad behaviour is seen as an essential part of a winning strategy.

None of this might matter if it were a purely sporting phenomenon. But attitudes such as these, seen in sport, are (predictably enough, given the important place occupied by sport in Australian society) sadly reflective of the attitudes that increasingly imbue Australian society as a whole.

Individual Australians can be the nicest people in the world, but I am sure I am not alone in having noticed an increasing intolerance of other views, an unwillingness to consider the interest of others, and a harder-edged nationalism in the voice and face that Australia now displays to the rest of the world, and not least to their friends.

It is as though the citizens of the "lucky country" can hardly believe their luck and are determined to make sure they make that luck pay and that no one else tries to muscle in.

These trends seem to have been exacerbated by the growing realisation that Australia has the opportunity to play an increasingly important role in the region and in the world as a whole.

The best friends are often those most prepared to speak frankly. The risk in speaking frankly, though, is that offence is taken. But the risk is worth it - and, in sporting matters, as long as the Bledisloe Cup continues to elude our Aussie friends, we are well-placed to put up with the odd bit of sledging when we point out the (sadly and increasingly) obvious.

Bryan Gould is a former British MP and Waikato University Vice-Chancellor.