The only thing more certain than the presence of drugs at any major international sporting event is the repetition, upon exposure of said drugs, of the same routine in the Australian media and public.
First, the athlete is revealed to have tested positive, or to have somehow otherwise breached the rules, for example by dodging a test. General outrage is expressed. But hot on the heels of the outrage come the accusations of Australian hypocrisy. “Oh, we’re always SO OUTRAGED when it’s someone from ANOTHER country,” the grand overseers of national morality pontificate, “but when it’s an AUSTRALIAN who gets caught, we make excuses. How hypocritical we are!”
The idea is that Australians, as a group, will always condemn in the strongest terms anyone with a whiff of suspicion over them, while eagerly swallowing even the feeblest of excuses offered for any of our own countrymen or women who return a positive test. Take the latest controversy, wherein Australian swimmer Mack Horton was lauded for his refusal to stand on the same podium as controversial Chinese champion Sun Yang, yet when Horton’s erstwhile teammate Shaynna Jack was revealed to have tested positive, everyone back home immediately leapt to her defence, certain that she was telling the truth when she claimed to have ingested the substance accidentally. It really shows us up as a nation of sanctimonious humbugs.
Or at least it would, if it were at all true.
For if you check out what Australians are saying on the issue, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone outside Shaynna Jack’s immediate circle professing total confidence in her, and certainly Australians claiming their own nation’s snowy purity in matters chemical are incredibly thin on the ground. Swimming Australia itself hasn’t at any point declared Jack’s innocence – all it’s done is clumsily try to hide the truth to save itself embarrassment, which is just a sporting organisation doing what sporting organisations do. Mack Horton himself hasn’t offered comment on Jack’s case, either way: he definitely hasn’t declared his willingness to stand beside her on a podium should she ever somehow beat him in a mixed-sex race. Have Jack’s breach and subsequent protestations received more coverage in Australia than Sun’s? Yes…because guess what? She’s Australian.
Lots and lots of commentators, pundits and tweeters are decrying the terrible double standards we apply to foreign offences compared to domestic ones. It’s just that nobody is actually practising those double standards. OK, maybe not “nobody”. I’m sure that there are a few people out there swearing blind that a good Aussie girl would never lie and that steroids are an inherent character trait of the Chinese, but they’re not exactly mainstream. They’re not even sidestream. They’re not in a stream at all. Look through the local media, check out what people are saying online, and you’ll find about a hundred denunciations of Australian hypocrisy for every one actual example.
It’s understandable, of course: Australians have, historically, been extremely hypocritical in sporting matters, and we are a naturally jingoistic people. It certainly feels like the sort of thing we’d do. But the fact is that nowadays, particularly among the sporting commentariat, the tendency towards patriotic double standards has mostly been replaced by another: the tendency towards self-flagellation.
Far more fashionable, today, to slag off Australian athletes and sporting culture, than to mindlessly defend them. Now the kneejerk reaction of Australians to a drugs in sport story is not to refuse to believe a compatriots’ guilt: it’s to paint every compatriot with they hypocrites’ brush.
It’s just a shame that in doing so, we’ve now reached the point where the standard take on a major sports story is a scathing takedown of a phenomenon that doesn’t actually exist.