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Whatever happened to the humble champion?

When did all that sporting self-belief, determination and skill morph into selfishness and crass
petulance? How come Rod Laver and Lew Hoad seem to be from a different planet to Anthony Mundine
and Ben Cousins.

Transcript

This transcript was typed from a recording of the program. The ABC cannot guarantee its complete
accuracy because of the possibility of mishearing and occasional difficulty in identifying
speakers.

Mick O'Regan: Hello, and welcome to The Sports Factor here on ABC Radio National. I'm Mick O'Regan.

On this Anzac Day we're going to find out where the mutual research interests of defence analysts
and sport scientists might lie.

It may not surprise you to learn that it's all about discovering the limits of our physical
capacity, personal bests for the sporting boffins, military success for the ADF.

Allan Hahn: We're looking at ways to enhance the performance of athletes through things like
nutritional procedures, through equipment that they might be using, so really it's all about trying
to understand more what's stopping them from performing better and addressing those issues. The
Australian Institute of Sport is interested in maximising the performance of athletes, and the
military obviously, wants to maximise the performance of soldiers, and both organisations are
really looking at doing that under pretty challenging conditions.

Mark Patterson: Most of the people that work in our organisation in relation to human performance
do have backgrounds generally in the sporting area and the way that we see it is that defence is
somewhat another sport in essence. We're looking at how far people can go, how we can condition
them more quickly, or how we can optimise the performance we can get out of them. So it's not that
much unlike sport.

Mick O'Regan: Dr Mark Patterson from the Defence, Science and Technology Organisation and before
him, Professor Allan Hahn from the Australian Institute of Sport.

And we'll come back to those gentlemen and to that story later in the show.

First this week I want to discuss the somewhat elusive quality of humility in sport.

The headlines and harsh words of last summer's cricket series between Australia and India seem to
have almost overwhelmed the calibre of the cricket played. There was a distinct lack of
graciousness on the field, and perhaps honed by the media, a sharp mood away from it.

Maybe the past is made rosy by fading memories, but there seemed to be more players cut from the
cloth of the 'humble champion' in days gone by.

To discuss this I was joined by the journalist, author and serious cricket enthusiast, Gideon
Haigh, and I began by asking him if the very idea of humility in sport had become an outmoded
concept.

Gideon Haigh: It's certainly an antique concept. I'm not sure that it's completely outmoded, I
think we still recognise it when we see it, but I think the days when the model Australian
sportsman was kind of Cincinnatus-like and returned to his plough with the thanks of a grateful
nation sufficient in itself. Those days are probably behind us. But that's not surprising really.
We're a society that is comfortable with ostentatious wealth, and we're a society that's
comfortable in the display of sexuality in the ways that we're used to; we're quite a narcissistic
society, and in some ways it would be surprising if sport had been exempt from that process. And I
think the other factor that kind of contributes to it is the media, sport and industrial complex.

Humility doesn't really televise very well, and it doesn't hyperbolise, and in some respects a lack
of humility kind of contributes to the theatre or the drama of the sport in the way that kind of
abject, fumbling, inarticulacy does not. In fact, some of the early sports big-noters were kind of
beloved for the sheer kind of eccentricity of their remarks. Someone like Reggie Jackson of the New
York Yankees, when he said the only reason that he didn't like playing the World Series was he
couldn't watch himself, that was kind of funny. When Brian Clough of Nottingham Forest said, 'Say
nowt, win, it then talk your head off', he became a kind of a cult figure because these people were
so unusual in their time.

I guess what's interesting now is that the phenomenon's become so widespread that it's no longer
something that occasions remark when a sportsman goes over the top in their own self-assessment.

Mick O'Regan: Now if we use the summer that's now fading, if we use the cricket series between
India and Australia as our template, what did this summer's contest say about these issues of
humility or generosity or professionalism?

Gideon Haigh: Well it was interesting that one of the things and Andrew Symonds was nettled about
before the Test series took place, was the lack of Indian humility after India had won the World
20/20 championship, Australia if you remember went there immediately after for a one-day series and
Symonds got a bit sick of having Indian superiority flourished in his face. A lack of humility can
be entertaining for the onlookers, but for the people who are kind of confronted with statements
about their inferiority, it can be extremely annoying, and I think there was an element of kind of
pay-back in the Australian effort this summer and a desire to kind of punish or retaliate against
India for the indignity that Australia had suffered.

Mick O'Regan: Now sport is much more professionalised, obviously, and some would argue that if you
look at that professionalism, that if you compare it to business, say, that in business the sine
qua non of a successful company is to make a profit, that's the idea of what they're trying to do,
and if we translate that back to professional sport, which isn't any more just communities
recreating, these are people making their living. So is it outmoded, is that antique notion of
humility simply out of place when we are training and paying these people to win, rather than to
simply play the game?

Gideon Haigh: And indeed I think also the media kind of encourages people to perform for the
cameras, or for the newspapers. They want figures who will kind of provoke and excite and annoy.
The media specialises in creating heroes and villains, and in some respects it sets up villains in
order that they might be brought down to earth, in the 'bigger they come, the harder they fall'
theory, but I wouldn't want to say that sporting humility has necessarily gone into decline. What
we see in front of the cameras or what the media performance that these performers come out with is
not necessarily the way they are as individuals, it's kind of a personality or a costume that they
assume for the purposes of their own presentation. It's also not to be underestimated how the role
of sports psychology has probably played in the self-perception of sportsmen. Sport psychology over
the last 10 or 20 years has emphasised positive thinking at all times, and a very solid
self-estimate of one's own ability. So public professions of modesty kind of sit ill with an
attitude that privileges mental disintegration and psychological dominance.

Mick O'Regan: Well that mental disintegration which of course is the great phrase that Steve Waugh,
the past Australian cricket Captain used to in a way justify sledging, saying ugly and rude remarks
to your competitor in the hope that he or she might not be able to concentrate, but have we got to
that point where anything goes? I've read accounts of the Australians, and I think Graeme Smith the
South African Captain recently came out and said that he's had experiences where all the close-in
fieldsmen relentlessly sledged him. Is sledging an indication of an insecurity or is it a strategy?

Gideon Haigh: I think it's evidence of a less-inhibited society, a society that regards doing
whatever it takes as an important aspect of trying to win the important contests. I think there's
also, certainly in the Australian approach to mental disintegration, a degree of conformity.
There's an expectation that one will contribute to the common wheel and to the Australian effort
and in some respects, the noisiest players acquire a prestige or a prominence in the team. It was
interesting, towards the end of last summer to hear Adam Gilchrist talking about the great respect
and esteem in which Matthew Hayden is held in the Australian team, precisely because he is such a
combative and competitive and noisy cricketer on the field.

Of course the way in which players who are involved in a performance and people who are watching a
performance, they're often antithetical experiences, and I think one of the reasons, just to return
to sports humility, that we value sports humility is that we have such a high regard for sporting
achievement. We think that if someone can be humble about something that so many of us dream of,
then they must truly be touched by grace.

Mick O'Regan: That even though their achievements are simply sort of indomitable, they reveal a
humanity, I mean it makes me think of Sir Edmund Hilary and the oft-repeated phrase that when he
walked down, when he and Sherpa Tenzing descended from Everest that first time in '53, that he
apparently said to a British companion, 'Well we've knocked the bastard off'. I mean it was this
simple, prosaic assessment of this extraordinary feat, and then of course Hilary, who literally had
achieved what no-one else had achieved, or together with Tenzing at least, then went on in a very
humble and quiet way to devote decades of his life after that to looking after the people of Nepal
and Tibet and from that area of the world that he thought had given so much to mountaineering.

Gideon Haigh: Yes indeed. I mean I guess if you're a mountaineer and you were kind of constantly
sort of confronted by the sublime, you were constantly confronted by the daunting powers of nature,
it would feel a little bit like hubris to provoke nature into retaliation. It's different when
you've got a human competitor who you feel as though you can psychologically get the better of if
you talk yourself up. At the same time I think there's a case to be made that sports humility
sometimes, or at least sports braggadocio can serve purposes other than simply being a noisy
irritant. I mean I guess the first apostle of kind of the egotistical sportsman was Muhammad Ali
who constantly told watchers and listeners about his greatness. Although with Ali it was a matter
not only of kind of emancipating himself, but also emancipating his people, you know imbuing
Afro-Americans with a pride that they'd not previously been able to express.

I mean previous leaders of the black population of the US had stressed equality, but here was Ali
talking about superiority and preaching it, saying that it was possible not only for black to be
the equal of white, but to be his better. And I think even now you hear in the effusions of someone
like a Shaquille O'Neal or a Dennis Rodman, traces of that, and likewise you hear it when Anthony
Mundine is invoking the spirit of Muhammad Ali and talking about himself in the third person.

Mick O'Regan: Which is interesting when you compare him to his father Tony Mundine, a fighter in
the 1970s, who always seemed very reluctant in front of the media, and in that classic phrase of
boxing, he let his fists do the talking. Are we talking about a generational change, or simply
different personalities?

Gideon Haigh: Different personalities, different times, and I also don't think the media would be
satisfied these days with someone who merely let their fists do the talking, or merely let the bat
do the talking. There is a tremendous pressure on athletes to talk a good game. We were talking
before about whether sport is principally about winning these days; it's actually about a little
bit more than winning. It's actually about marketing, it's actually about selling yourself into the
free market for entertainment. You know, Anna Kournikova can earn a very good living being a
sportsman who loses a very great deal because she has this sort of pin-up cache that she's
acquired. Professional athletes don't necessarily have to win, they just have to be good enough in
order to earn a reasonable income.

And it's interesting that in the assessments of the players that were being auctioned in the Indian
premier league recently, the money didn't necessarily flow to the players who were the best, or the
outstanding practitioners in their particular skills, it went mainly to those whose properties were
most easy to leverage. I think Andrew Symonds, by $1.5-million of Andrew Symonds, is being promoted
partly because he's a very good one-day cricketer, but also because he's a very recognisable figure
in India, perhaps for some of the wrong reasons, perhaps he's being set up as a kind of cardboard
cutout villain. But there certainly was a premium paid for recognisable sportsmen, sportsmen whose
faces could stare out from billboards and appear in television advertisements, things that because
of the fundamentally commercial nature of the IPL were probably more important to that competition
than, say, Test cricket.

Mick O'Regan: Just to come back to this generational thing, and I want to wheel out yet another oft
repeated example, and that of course is of the late Keith Miller. Now is there a broader question
here that players of a previous generation who had to make their lives in other contexts, and who
had these great and sometimes terrible experiences behind them, that sport had a looser, almost
flippant quality, or frivolous quality, whereas nowadays it's all so unerringly serious, that
that's changed it?

Gideon Haigh: It certainly felt like a relief from dull care. You can imagine what it would have
felt like to play cricket in 1945 during the Victory Tests, a player like Graham Williams for
instance, who'd been a p.o.w. until just a couple of months before. But of course that's the case,
I mean it would be unnatural were it otherwise. A modern sportsman these days will probably spend
most of his career in a kind of protective bubble, being made to feel very special, being made to
feel that he is touched by God, and he will grow up with a very solid sense of his own entitlement.
I think sometimes it would be unsurprising if it were otherwise, in that we're creating kind of a
generation of moral monsters in sport, with a completely disproportionate idea of their place in
society and their value to their fellow man.

Mick O'Regan: And yet the one person in this recent summer who seemed to me to strike against the
mould was actually Sachin Tendulkar, whose performances were sublime, effectively winning the
one-day series, but also in the Tests, some of his centuries were simply the benchmark of great
batting, yet there never seems to be any hubris or unreasonable sledging, or gratuitous insults
that come from Sachin Tendulkar. He seems to embody both great cricketing skills and be a very
personable human being.

Gideon Haigh: I think for so much of his career, Sachin Tendulkar has tried to keep the public at
arm's length, because the public in India is such an overwhelming presence. Tendulkar has found it
very difficult to concentrate on his cricket at various times in his career, because being a
cricketer is such a celebrity occupation in India, and he is the chief celebrity in the whole of
the country. I think sometimes when you see him at the wicket, it's as though this is his sanctuary
from all the other sort of complications of his life, the opportunity to kind of just sink himself
in his game and to practice his technical excellence, which is clearly something that he's
dedicated a lifetime to, is such a relief to him that there's a kind of a spontaneity and a joy
about his cricket that you don't necessarily see with other players.

I wouldn't want to necessarily say that Tendulkar is the only player that we've seen evidence of
grace from this summer. I think Brett Lee's set a very good example in the Australian team of
playing the ball rather than the man, and I think there's something contagious about his pleasure
in the game, which I think spectators, both Australian and Indian, have related to.

Mick O'Regan: Indeed, and of course that photograph of Brett Lee being consoled by Andrew Flintoff
in the Edgbaston Test in the 2005 Ashes series in England, became it seemed to me, the leitmotiv of
a whole range of discussions about sportsmanship, that here we had two competitors who had gone
hammer and tongs in that game, but at the end there was a moment where the human qualities of a
sense of loss or a sense of victory, or empathy, came though. Is that what we can't generally
afford to have in sport these days, that there's a lack of empathy because we need to see our
competitor as the enemy rather than just a competitor?

Gideon Haigh: Competition between Australia and England on the Test match field has 130 years of
tradition behind it, and of course a very strong sense of sort of shared heritage and shared
humanity between the two countries involved. In fact I recently saw some film of Flintoff speaking
at a sportsmen's night in England where he was asked about that particular incident, and he was
asked, what did he actually say to Lee? And he sort of made a joke of it; He said, 'I said one-all
you Aussie bastard'. So in some senses the players actually I think have actually felt slightly
embarrassed by the way in which people have talked about that moment as being so sort of spiritual
and so transcendent. They don't want to feel as though they're getting bigger than their boots,
they actually want to feel as though there's a certain sort of - there's still a mano e mano aspect
to their competition.

Mick O'Regan: Are there national differences do you think, or are they overwritten like for example
do you think that the Australian cricket team, to use it as an example, that it plays this hard
game, this hard-talking game, more than other teams, more than the South Africans or the Indians or
the English?

Gideon Haigh: They've certainly become kind of the embodiment and the personification of that style
of play, and of course the perverse compliment that they're being paid now is that other countries
have to come to see that as kind of intrinsic to the Australian battle plan, and they've started to
emulate it. There are other countries around the world who probably sledge just as badly as
Australia, and who probably practice exactly the same sort of forms of gamesmanship. But it's
Australians have almost established - they've made it their own, and by exhibiting their resentment
when other people emulate it, they've actually managed to make themselves seem a little bit
precious about it at the same time.

Mick O'Regan: Gideon Haigh, journalist, author and enthusiastic amateur cricketer.

Sport and the military

Anzac Day seems an appropriate time to consider the relationship between sport and the military.

Transcript

This transcript was typed from a recording of the program. The ABC cannot guarantee its complete
accuracy because of the possibility of mishearing and occasional difficulty in identifying
speakers.

Anzac Day seems an appropriate time to consider the relationship between sport and the military.

Now much has been made of the legendary cricket games played at Anzac Cove, testimony both to the
almost perverse bravery of the troops involved and for their love of the game.

These days the parallel worlds of sports research and military training are likely to come together
in a conference, which is precisely what happened in Canberra recently.

The topic was The Limits of Human Performance and was organised by the Australian Institute of
Sport and the Defence, Science and Technology Organisation.

The Institute's Professor Allan Hahn was a keynote speaker.

Allan Hahn: We're looking at ways to enhance the performance of athletes through things like
nutritional procedures, through equipment that they might be using, so really it's all about trying
to understand more what's stopping them from performing better and addressing those issues.

Mick O'Regan: So in sports terms, that's against a series of indicators that are to do with
personal bests, and the capacity of the athlete to deliver maybe in a match environment?

Allan Hahn: Yes, that's right.

Mick O'Regan: When you bring in a military perspective on this, and we'll go into this a bit later
I imagine, but where is firstly the broad overlap between what the AIS might be interested in, and
what the Australian Defence Forces might also be interested in.

Allan Hahn: The Australian Institute of Sport is interested in maximising the performance of
athletes, and the military obviously wants to maximise the performance of soldiers. And both
organisations are really looking at doing that under pretty challenging conditions.

Mick O'Regan: Well just on those challenging conditions, does that mean that to measure these
things, to get any understanding of the capacity of performance in adversity, that you really have
to push people into places they'd rather not go?

Allan Hahn: A lot of the monitoring that's being done these days is based on trying to assess
people in their actual field environments, so we do do some work in laboratory situations,
simulating field conditions, but more and more with advances in technology, it's becoming possible
to measure what people are doing during their normal training exercises, or in competition
settings.

Mick O'Regan: Now I imagine that within athletics, if we narrow it to that, there are all sorts of
different types of events that require different bodies and different applications of muscle
strength. I mean there's a great difference between Craig Mottram running a 5,000 or 10,000 metre
and maybe Australia's leading shot-putter going through his or her competition.

Allan Hahn: Yes, there are very different requirements for those events.

Mick O'Regan: Right. So is it possible to outline what the requirements are you're measuring or
looking at or is it a case of individual by individual, event by event?

Allan Hahn: No, we have a fairly good idea of what requirements there are for particular events in
terms of body shapes and sizes and also things like strength and physiological capacities. So part
of what we do at the AIS is to find people who we think have the potential to achieve those body
characteristics and physiological aspects, and develop training programs to get them to the levels
required.

Mick O'Regan: Now I imagine that there's all sorts of technologies that come into play that through
communications or through touch sensitive panels, you can start looking at measuring events in
sport. Now am I right in understanding that in boxing there's an actual vest that's been developed
that will be of great use in terms of judging how boxers are going.

Allan Hahn: It's not just a vest, there's also headguards and gloves that have been instrumented,
so they provide us with a lot more information about the performance of the boxers than we can get
just through normal coach observation.

Mick O'Regan: Right, and that will tell you what? the speed of a punch, the amount of pressure
exerted by that punch?

Allan Hahn: It gives you the fact that an impact has occurred, an index of the magnitude of that
impact, exactly when it occurred, whether it was delivered with a left or right hand, where it
occurred on the athlete receiving the impact so that you can get an indication as to where they
might be vulnerable and how that might change as they become fatigued.

Mick O'Regan: Now is that an example of an area that would have interest to the military? I mean
it's about fighting, let's be frank here. Is that sort of technology, is that an application that's
coming out of a sport like boxing that would be of interest to military strategists and military
analysts.

Allan Hahn: I think there's aspects of the technology that could be important to monitoring
military performance. Obviously that project involves impact detection, but it also involves
wireless technologies and wearable electronics which obviously have great, great interest to the
military, because wearable electronics enables us to monitor what's happening in field situations
in a very unobtrusive way.

Mick O'Regan: Professor Allan Hahn, from the Australian Institute of Sport.

From the military side, Dr Mark Patterson represented the Defence Science and Technology
Organisation.

Mark Patterson: For defence, we're looking at being able to put people into operations, or into
training activities that might last weeks or months. So unlike the 100-metre sprint that goes for
10 seconds, we're looking at people who have to perform day in, day out, for long periods of time,
and throughout that time sometimes it's very high intensity, sometimes it's less. So we're looking
for peak performance, but we're looking for a slightly different peak performance where the person
can do the job and do it well, it doesn't impact on their health in the short or longer term, and
it can achieve the outcomes that the ADF want to achieve.

Mick O'Regan: Are there specific indicators for the military that your research is seeking to
ascertain?

Mark Patterson: We want to know where the limits are so that information can be fed to commanders
so that they know how long they can push someone for at a certain limit. And this is where
monitoring people, being able get physiological vital signs off our personnel, which is similar to
what the AIS do with their athletes. We can then manage their performance throughout, 3 to 4, 5
hours, so we know when they have to slow down, we know when we can rotate them through. So in ADF I
suppose it's more about the team performance, a bit like I suppose a team sport, when you need to
rotate people. So yes, there are the similarities and we do want to know how long you can go for
and how much more do we need to provide them, because it's essentially important that these people
don't suffer large amounts of dehydration because that will affect their operational performance.

Mick O'Regan: Absolutely. The other thing that interests me I suppose is the capacity for
decision-making. Now the sportspeople and coaches will tell you that making decisions under
pressure and evaluating options to seeing which is the best percentage play, is a key attribute of
a champion sportsperson. How does that translate to the military field?

Mark Patterson: I think it's the same in the military field. From the physiological and
biomechanics perspective, that's really the minimum, that's the base engine capacity that the
person needs to have to be able to do the job. The critical thing is the decision-making at the
end, so a lot of our work is interested in trying not to fatigue the person or overload the person
so that their cognitive abilities are still at a level that they can make good decisions. And so
that work, wherever we have blue displays, red displays, how the information's conveyed to the
person, they're critical things in a defence environment, and they're the big things that can have
large impacts on how an operation pans out.

So just like in sport, cognitive ability or decision making is critical. So we're trying not to
actually put too much physical load on the person so that their cognitive abilities are maintained.
And also team sport, team building activities which is what ADF does really well, is have that
very, very big focus on team work. So sport is part of ADF's culture, and I think it's there to
stay for a long time, even though there are some adverse impacts in contact sports the benefits
gained from the camaraderie, the team, and mateship, override those issues.

Mick O'Regan: And just finally, these co-operative endeavours with places like the Australian
Institute of Sport, do you see them as growing initiatives? Is it going to be more likely as time
goes on, that the military will want more and more scientifically-based details on physiology, on
human performance, on human endurance as it comes out of sports research?

Mark Patterson: That's what we're getting from our uniformed clients within the ADF. They're
looking at every way that they can extract the most amount of performance out of their people,
which is exactly what sports scientists are doing as well. So specially with technology gains,
there's a lot of where we're looking at monitoring our soldiers and airmen and sailors, is exactly
what the AIS are wanting to do, so the technologies, the science is the same. How it's applied is
somewhat different due to one being going to coaches, the other our information, going to
commanders. So as time's gone on, we're starting to get much more common ground.

Mick O'Regan: Dr Mark Patterson, from the Defence Science and Technology Organisation.

And that's The Sports Factor for this week. My thanks to the team of producer Andrew Davies,
technical producer Peter McMurray and also to Sabrina Lipovic in ABC Radio Archives.

I'm Mick O'Regan, thanks for listening. I hope you'll join me again at the same time next week for
another edition of The Sports Factor, here on ABC Radio National.