The Boomers and the “insult” of tanking accusations: Spare me

FIBA, the world organisation for basketball and the people running the current World Championships, have announced that they are investigating Australia for tanking in their recent pool game against Angola.

Basketball Australia’s response has been that the allegation is an insult to Australia.

Before we get all nationalistic and start to measure the slight upon our great country*, can we get out into the open immediately that there should be no doubt at all that Australia tanked.

Gillon McLachlan may not have been able to define tanking when he announced the fines and penalties on Melbourne but we may now be able to look up the dictionary (or type into Wikipedia for those modern amongst us) and under ‘tanking’ see this game.

Australia led by as much as 15 points in the third quarter, only to lose. Now, losing a lead isn’t evidence enough. However, the ‘resting’ of key players like Baynes, Dellavedova and Ingles for significant parts of the game coupled with defence in the third period that would embarrass a junior team and you are starting to get the planets aligned.

However, the local response to the result has been curious. By losing this game, Australia were contriving to finish in a certain spot in the group stage and therefore avoid being drawn against tournament fave USA until potentially the semi-finals, all going well.

Ironically, Australia did the job better than they realised, by completely avoiding the USA for the remainder of the tournament, when a late loss to Turkey in the following game eliminated them for the whole thing. Had they stayed, a quarter final match against Lithuania would have probably happened, who we had beaten already!

Here, many people have simply shrugged and said that this was a wise move. Delay meeting the Yanks as much as possible, try for a 3rd place and do your future funding hopes no harm by finishing well in a major tournament.

People seem to have pointed to the nature of the tournament, with noted ESPN associated website Grantland also virtually blaming the organisation of the championship and not pointing the figure at Australia.

However, this is more than informed player management, rotation policy, resting players or giving the bench a run.

Angola are repeatedly one of the main African teams, however Australia, having had unexpected success against European opposition earlier in the tournament were clear favourites. Whilst the back to back nature of many of the games can be taxing, that wasn’t something only impacting us. Yes, Baynes was receiving injections before each game after a long season with the Spurs, but he can’t be the only guy with niggles.

No, we should be clear about what happened: Australia deliberately manipulated a result to lose a game that they could have won, as losing offered more than winning.

It seems that when this is applied to AFL, we are disgusted and shocked, although occasionally understanding why it occurs, like the draft system. Teams resting players when there’s no impact on the result, is different. Sydney didn’t tank in the final round, anymore than Freo did last year in resting half their side against St Kilda. Neither outcome impacted their season and they still fielded a good side and didn’t ‘benefit’ or gain from losing.

Australia though did benefit from losing, and would have ‘lost’ by winning, as it could have created a situation where they met a stronger team when they didn’t want to. You can’t blame the system anymore than you can blame banks for a robbery by saying they shouldn’t keep all that money there. If you deliberately play badly or not to your best to gain something by losing, you are tanking.

The three players rested would play a major part in every game of the tournament, but this one. Even if you were seeking to rest them for later on, a smart move, you’d bring them in when the game was under threat as it was late in the fourth. Or if you wanted to ensure the bench was getting minutes, you’d still change if it wasn’t working.

Winning form is something not to be trifled with. The danger of losing then assuming you can wipe this result a day or two later against an opposition ranked above you in Turkey is arrogant and ill-informed. Australia, had they won against Angola, could have survived the loss against Turkey and still achieved their dodgy ambition of avoiding the USA. As it was, their Angola loss and how we did it told the Turks we think we have you covered. More fool us.

This occurs in international competitions. It has happened in Cricket World Cups, when teams have colluded to edge a third team from the finals. It happened in the recent Olympics and cannot be ruled out in team sport where there is a group stage.

However, can we please get away from the nationalistic insult response?

We Aussies always play to win! We never give up! We never take drugs! We are all clean, don’t cheat and play the game in the true amateur spirit, hard on the field, mates off it.

Baloney, rubbish, claptrap and hogwash.

We might be purer than some, but we are not the bastions of sportsmanship we think we are. No one is. (And what the hell does unAustralian mean anyway?)

So let’s call a spade a freakin’ shovel shall we. The Boomers didn’t try to win, contrived to lose, could have won if they needed to or wanted to enough, and now have egg on their face and funding out of their pockets as a result. This wasn’t a soccer friendly where you can trail players for a later big tournament, so the results aren’t as important.

Are we the only people to do this? No. Do you want to delay meeting the US in a basketball tournament as long as possible? Maybe. But don’t wee on my shoes and tell me there’s precipitation in the air.

We didn’t do everything we could to win. We wore the colours and represented our country on the world stage in one of the most popular sports in the world, and worked to lose rather than win.

We achieved our goal of not playing the Yanks. We should be very happy with what we did then and welcome the chance for FIBA to investigate and cop our right whack for insulting the intelligence of the viewing public.

*Do we make the head of FIBA come to Australia, Bart Simpson style, and boot him up the bum?

About Sean Curtain

"He was born with a gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad". First line of 'Scaramouche' by Sabatini, always liked that.


  1. Well said Sean. Didn’t follow the tournament so can’t comment on the game, but you are spot on when it comes to how we respond when it is Australia being accused relative to how we respond when someone else is being accused.

  2. And it makes sense.
    As long as the incentive to lose is greater than the incentive to win, it will keep happening.
    (e.g. priority draft picks, group stage placements, dodgy handicaps).
    Why should it not?
    Not rocket surgery. Good call Sean.

  3. Gregor Lewis says

    Why is everybody misdefining tanking for the sake of making arguments?

    If tanking isn’t already universally recognised as ‘the deliberate premeditated act of not giving yourself the best chance to win a competitive contest’, then it bloody well should be.

    Northing else matters.

    Australia tanked in the FIBA WORLD CUP 2014.
    Sydney tanked against Richmond in Round 23, 2014.
    Fremantle tanked against St.Kilda in the final round H&A, 2013.
    Nicholas Lapenti tanked the fourth set against Karol Kucera in the Australian Open Tennis Quarter-Finals.

    Every one of those instances of tanking was because the competitor strategised that doing so, gave them the best chance to achieve their ultimate goal.

    In a competition that isn’t sudden death, where there is room to be strategically uncompetitive with a view to keeping your eyes on a larger prize … So be it.

    Like Sydney.
    Like Fremantle.
    Like Lapenti …
    … unlike the Boomers, you better make it stick.

    Otherwise, much like the apocryphal historic anecdotes of Ancient Sparta, your punishment and ridicule should not be for breaking some sort of rule or code, but for getting caught … OUT!

    I have no issue with tanking. But you’ve gotta make it count.

    The Boomers didn’t. For that, they deserve all the ridicule and scorn coming their way.


  4. Nathan Hall says

    I bet you feel like a complete idiot, after rambling on about how Australia definetely tanked, and we were cleared of tanking. Please do NOT write about basketball again, you know nothing of the rules or what the players go through at the level they play at. This was the biggest load of BS I’ve ever read. Well done mate, well done at looking like a bozo.

  5. FIBA said Australian basketball wasn’t “tanking”. Well they would say that, wouldn’t they.
    There are such fine distinctions in these things between resting, rotating and experimenting with players; and trying to lose because it is better rewarded than winning on occasions. Witness Melbourne FC and the Boomers at the World Championships.
    We just had a happy coincidence of losing, or maybe just not making extensive efforts to win, and resting our key players. In both cases the Boomers and the Demons were amply rewarded by subsequent events.
    No bozos here Nathan, just astute observers of human nature. You’ll learn about that as you grow up.

  6. Hi Nathan

    Thanks for reading and responding. The nasty in me asks if it took you since September to finish the piece but I’ll set that aside. I respect your right to have an adverse opinion, just would have wanted to hear what it was, instead of just having a crack.

    Like others, I wouldn’t necessarily see getting absolution from the organising body as being a clean bill of health. FIFA have probably seen us have that view.

    And I still don’t see that the accusation of tanking to avoid the US hasn’t been rejected. Australia rested players that regularly play back to back games in the NBA etc, including travel, games that (removing teams like the US but also France, Spain and maybe Brazil) are tougher than some international teams Witness also the demands of the NBA on teams like the Spurs who are suffering through the rodeo road trip season when they play away from home for a month with lots of travel. (Pop has managed the roster well, especially last sason, bu that’s not to tank, rather to keep something in the tank.) you can’t tell me those same or similar players needed a rest after a few games over that tournament compared to their usual Euro or NBA season obligations.

    Don’t tell me tanking doesn’t take place in basketball, even outside of tournament play. How else do you explain the 76ers trading MCW and stockpliling draft picks.

    Gregor makes good points above that tanking isn’t isoltaed, and my point was more that we shouldn’t see that Australia is immune to this. When these things happen, why do we explain away Australia as being holier than thou. Witness our double standards with doping in swimming, everyone esle does it but our guys made a simple mistake with cold and flu tablets.

    We should just accept that we did what we could to lose, stuffed up and it backfired. The players rested or used sparingly could have backed up. Nobody says we threw up bricke deliberatley, but we didn’t field out best side and were ok with a loss, we should just admit it.

    So, thanks for the comments, which didn’t really add much to your argument save for going with FIBA. I hope you have thought i do know a littlemore about BB than just scanning, but i’d welcome yoru thoughts in more detail


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