Apparently, allegedly, there are people who think that Australians take sport too seriously, and that as a result we ask and expect too much sacrifice from our athletes. These limp-leaning types are the same ones who demanded schools ban British Bulldog and campaign against ball sports of all kinds, due to risks so small they rate way down next to the possibility of Barnaby Joyce saying something sensible.
These cussedly cautious individuals would point to the recent outbreak of honesty about the mental-health toll on professional cricketers as proof of their arguments, even as David Boon sits, stewing quietly in some old-school pub, fighting the urge to call them all pussies. Or pathetic.
And yet there’s a possibility, as we watch our previous invincibility on the world stage subside, that we might not be taking sport seriously enough.
The evidence for this argument is as bright and blatant as the Sun Yang controversy. This 27-year-old colossus of swimming is facing very different drug charges to those levelled against legendary bong-lover Michael Phelps.
Overwhelming evidence now shows that Yang not only refused to provide a urine sample to official drug testers– presumably because any such sample would have glowed in the dark – but went out of his way to smash some vials of blood he’d agreed to give to officials earlier that same fateful evening in Hangzhou, China, back in 2018.
His blatant breach of the rules - which is something akin to being found robbing a bank before attacking the arresting police officers, snatching the evidentiary stolen banknotes and burning them, before going on to protest your innocence – has led to both uproar and a beautiful moment of up-yours-manship by our own Mack Horton, who refused to stand in the tainted light of Sun Yang after “losing” to him at the World Championships in South Korea.
While it might be easy, and possibly quite accurate, to suggest that Sun is just another Chinese drug cheat, it is illuminating to examine what brought him to the point of attempting to defend his own indefensibility.
To say that China takes winning at sport a little more seriously than us is like saying that Winston Churchill was a slightly smarter politician than Jacqui Lambie. And the fact is that Sun is a product of both that system and his sabre-toothed tiger mother, Ming Yang, who hasn’t been so much drinking the communist Kool-Aid as having a blood transfusion with the stuff.
Mummy Yang has long decided what her boy will eat, when he trains, who he’s allowed to see (think: no girlfriends, no job and no fun outside of endless laps of the pool), and where he lives; under her roof, forever. Sun is reportedly too paranoid to go out, anywhere, because he fears someone might spike his drinks, presumably with drugs not quite as powerful as those provided by his glorious leaders.
Apparently, Mummy makes a point of telling him how lucky he is to be competing on behalf of his glorious nation every single day. And, as a former state-sponsored athlete herself, she doesn’t even think this is weird or unnatural.
“The psychology of an athlete’s parents is sometimes very contradictory,’’ Mummy Yang has admitted.
“On the one hand, I have to ask him to complete the high-intensity training and encourage him to turn the pressure into the driving force of progress.
“On the other hand, I’m not sure whether what I’ve been insisting is the best thing for my son.”
Hello? Mrs Yang? It’s Mr Sherlock on the phone, and he’d like to say, “No shit.”
Sun Yang may well be found guilty by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and China may even decide to acknowledge such a decision, but the fact is that even with him gone, our athletes will end up facing more like him in the future, because the fact is that China cares far more about winning, and far less about getting caught cheating, than we do.
Sure, we do have Steve Smith, who is both as obsessed with winning and as a guilty of past cheating as any Chinese athlete, but that’s different because there isn’t a drug yet invented that could make someone as freakish as Smith. Or not yet, at least.