The meritocracy of sport


by Lee Carney

What is it about sport that sucks us through the gates by the millions every year, makes us pay ridiculous amounts for merchandise, upgrade our Pay TV subscriptions and spend countless hours that would be better spent with our partners and/or family’s, watching grown men play children’s games.  The most common answer to this question has been the competition and while I believe there is definitely truth in this, I believe it is competition of a different sort than that which exists between teams.

Sport is the one thing in our lives that is a pure meritocracy, you play well, score a try, get 30 possessions, put the ball in the back of the net or take wickets and you get a game next week.  All of us work in offices, factories, building sites or other institutions where those who get along, get along, where those without necessarily the best abilities get the promotion because of who they are friends with, or because they are fun to have a drink with.  We see politicians who get elected on popularity, whereas we all know if they went for a job interview for the role of President or Prime Minister they wouldn’t even get beyond the first cut of resumes.  We live in a ‘not what you know, but a who you know’ world, where relationships matter more than ability.  However, every weekend we turn on the TV and know that we are watching the best of the best (unless its Melbourne v Port Adelaide of course)  We are watching the one thing left in the Western World where if you don’t perform you get punted and you can’t even complain when it happens (though many still do).  This absolute pure meritocracy is why the following names anger the average sports fan so much and have caused so much controversy in recent weeks and months. I’m talking about Andrew Hilditch and Ray Chamberlain.  If you don’t recognize the name Ray Chamberlain then you are not an AFL fan, so just substitute your codes most frustrating umpire or referee.

Let’s start with Razor Ray, until I started mulling over the theory contained in this article, I always thought Ray angered me because of his preening ‘look at me’ umpiring style and for his annoying habit of popping up with contentious decisions in big moments, but then I realised it was much more than that.  If Ray popped up in the big moments and made decisions that were correct, like Bill Harrigan, for all his antics used to do, you would cop it, whilst still grumbling about turning up to watch the players not the umpires.  The issue with Ray is twofold, one that he is so often wrong, and two and the subject of this piece, that he suffers no consequences, in fact like all umpires and referees he can be assured the umpiring boss will front the press on Monday and defend the indefensible.  In fact often rather than admit an umpires mistake, administrators will instead often change the interpretation of that rule so they can claim their man was correct in a misguided attempt to protect his charges, leaving us with the double whammy of an umpire not being held accountable and a new rule interpretation that will frustrate fans for months and years to come.

For Ray has worked out, that no matter how egregious his mistake he can be confident that Gieschen will pop up on Monday Morning declare he was happy with the performance and there will be no consequences.  If a player continually stuffs up, particularly in big moments then that player gets dropped, plain and simple.  The brutal Darwinism of sporting meritocracy at work, but for the Umpires there is no such consequence and this is what angers sports fans so much.  Ray becomes the annoying brownnose at our workplace who just got the big pay rise despite the massive stuff up; he is the Wall Street banker collecting 100 million dollar bonuses after plunging us into recession.  Yet it frustrates us more than these examples because for 2 hours sport is meant to be our escape, our opportunity to see only the best of the best, the purest meritocracy there is, Professional Sport.

Andrew Hilditch’s story is even more egregious in many ways than that of Ray because unlike Ray and his ilk, he doesn’t have the flimsy excuse of split second decision making and unlike Ray we don’t get to scream our abuse from the boundary at him.  Hilditch sits in his ivory tower at Cricket Australia, slowly and methodically destroying the Australian Cricket team and we feel powerless as fans to do a single thing about it.  Also, and this is the massive thing that raises the ire against Hilditch above that of even the Chamberlains of the world is not only has he usurped the meritocracy of sport to reach his position, but he is destroying the athletic meritocracy as well.  Gerard Whately said it best; there is a sacred contract between Cricket and the boys of Australia.  You all pick up a bat in the backyard at some stage, if you’re any good or have a liking for the game you go to your local club and have a hit.  The best from this level rise to Regional Teams and then if you’re good enough (note I did not say LUCKY ENOUGH) you rise to state junior teams, district cricket and State Cricket.  Then the best of the best from the Sheffield Shield cauldron rise to the ultimate, the Baggy Green, it is a perfect sporting pyramid, the very physical shape of a true meritocracy.  But Hilditch, that CA Dunce with the ever present smirk, he has destroyed the pyramid and replaced it with a bizarre table top, lopping off the point, but not even having the decency to lop it off straight and give all state players some sort of equal chance, no this table top has bizarre peaks and troughs on top, being from NSW is a definite peak (though that has always been somewhat true) and if you turned a ball off the straight anytime in the last 5 years that’s a peak also, then there are the troughs that have gobbled up Brad Hodge over the Hilditch era.  It angers us and it should, we put up with enough Andrew Hilditch’s and Ray Chamberlains at our office during the week, we don’t need to see them on weekends too.

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