Timing is everything. On Monday, mine was lousy when Cadel Evans won the Tour de France and I unwittingly became the public enemy of anyone who’d ever ridden a bike.
I didn’t wake up with the intention of offending half of Australia. But by 8am, that’s what I’d done after appearing on The Today Show in my regular What’s Making News segment where Karl Stefanovic asked me to share his intense jubilation over Cadel’s victory.
I replied I was happy for Cadel but ambivalent about the over-the top adulation we lavish on sports stars and the way we’re so quick to laud them as heroes.
Have I mentioned bad timing? Bad. Timing. My first inkling that I was swimming against an almighty tide of patriotic sentiment was when the floor crew – many of whom I’ve known for years – jeered me loudly.
Gamely and somewhat clumsily, I persevered, trying to explain how I wished we afforded the same praise and glory to those doing amazing things in other, non-sporting fields. Karl got huffy at this point, calling me ignorant, demanding I read Cadel’s biography and pretty much accusing me of blowing my nose into the Australian flag.
I huffed back, insisting there were hundreds of unsung Australian ‘heroes’ whose names we’d never know because sport sucked up so much media oxygen. Names like those two female surgeons who successfully separated Siamese twins Trishna and Krishna in Melbourne.
Who were they again?
Unfortunately, my exasperated eye-rolling and recalcitrant body language was misinterpreted by many as being disrespectful to Cadel and his stunning win. It wasn’t. I was simply exasperated with Karl. Business as usual.
The backlash was immediate. As the waves of online abuse turned into a tsunami, I was in tears before breakfast. By lunchtime, I was physically afraid to go outside. Cyber-bullying is like that. The anonymity makes you paranoid and fearful because you don’t know who your abusers are.
Seeing how shaken I was, some suggested I turn off my computer for a few days and wait for it all to die down. As a website publisher however, the online world is my workplace so I don’t have the luxury of walking away.
The responses fell into a few categories including many who agreed with me and many who politely didn’t. But the overwhelming majority hurled outright abuse. I was called every name you can think of – bitch, dog, skank, mole, idiot, loser, cow, slut – and many you can’t. Hundreds and hundreds of times. They denigrated my parents, my children, my appearance, my voice, my weight, my religion…. it was endless and still hasn’t stopped.
My point was simply this: why do we place such a disproportionate emphasis on sporting achievement in Australia? Why doesn’t success in other fields receive similar attention?
And what about the kids who don’t like playing sport or even watching it? The ones whose dreams, ambitions and interests lie in other areas? Where are their national heroes?
Sport has never been a big part of my life. My family love it but I watch a bit of the Olympics and that’s about it. I don’t barrack for a team. I don’t follow a code. The sporting victory of an individual or group, even on a world stage, has no particular impact on my life. Apparently though, this makes me unAustralian, an insult hurled at me endlessly this week on Twitter, Facebook and talkback radio.