arrival of Sporting Nation on our television screens couldn’t
have come at a more appropriate time. It comes just as Australia finds
itself sifting through the ashes of an Olympic campaign that was
hampered by controversy, internal squabbling, and expectations so lofty
you’d need some kind of breathing apparatus to reach them.
part series from the ABC does just what’s needed in these circumstances:
It takes a long, hard look at the state of sports in this country. It
shows us the good bits and the bad bits, not just of the sports we so
fervently follow, but of ourselves as a people. After taking us on a
tour down the long and hallowed hall of Australian sporting
achievements, it stops and ponders what all of it- any of it, actually
two episodes take us through the history of sports in Australia, with a
big focus on past Olympic games. In episode 2 we also get a look at the
development of domestic sports, such as rugby, AFL, soccer and cricket.
is written and presented by ABC veteran John Clarke, who uses his
trademark wit to both disarm and engage the viewer. The inventive title
sequence, which recreates various sports using tiny models on miniature
sets, hints at a tongue-in-cheek approach, and this is carried right
through the programme. During episode 3 especially, some very serious
themes come into the discussion. But all of it is handled with a wry,
delves into the positives that sports can have- such as acting as a tool
for integration for migrants from other countries, the obvious health
benefits, and the character building that comes from playing with a
bunch of mates.
shows us the dark side. If sporting achievement is tied in with national
pride, then what happens if the results aren’t going our way? Is the
relationship between the media and things such as alcohol and gambling
destructive, or just harmless fun? And has television moved us into a
dangerous new phase where we never actually play sport anymore, but
simply watch it from the comfort of our lounge rooms?
throughout the show, Clarke shifts the perspective to the point of view
of someone looking in on Australia from the outside. Through the clever
way he tells his narrative, we’re able to look on ourselves- and the way
we do things- with a fresh set of eyes.
is also impressive for its interviews. Among the people
spoken to are Pat Rafter, who expresses concern that some arrogance is
creeping into the Australian psyche; Bob Hawke, who describes how
immigration has helped shape both the country and the way we play our
sports; and Herb Elliott, who talks about the effects of a positive
attitude on his life and career.
interviews have been chopped and edited to fit the format of the show,
but you can watch them in their entirety on the second disc. A great
number of sporting champions have contributed here: Cathy Freeman, Shane
Gould, Dawn Fraser, Murray Rose, Nicole Livingstone and Cadel Evans
being just a few.
is a great tonic for an Olympics hangover. It’s a
humorous yet sensible answer to the question: What does our obsession
for sport say about us as a nation? For all those public figures who’ve
been demanding answers as to what ‘went wrong’ in London, this should be