Friday, May 30, 2008

Australia needs to clean up before hosting more major sporting events

There would be few in Australia who would argue today that it was not a wonderful thing for Sydney to host the Olympic games in 2000. I attended some events in Sydney and was there enjoying the atmosphere with hundreds of thousands of other Australians and also international people. I had the pleasure of having my photo taken with a gold medalist. I was there in the main Olympic stadium cheering on our athletes towards the prize of a medal. I was there in Darling Harbour with 5 000 others watching Cathy Freeman win the 400m gold, and in tears knew that this was a great moment for reconciliation between Indigenous and European Australia.

But still there were some noises from the international media about Australia having human rights issues, because of the conditions that many indigenous Australians live in. Some sports followers despise the connection of politics with sport. But to be a sports lover and to ignore politics is wrong. We can not enjoy ourselves while our brothers and sisters are suffering around us.

Once again, in an Olympic year the issue of human rights has hit the headlines again. Chinese oppression of Tibetan monks and freedom protesters in Tibet has caused a lot of controversy around the world. Olympic torch relays have been interrupted. People have debated about whether protesters should have interrupted the torch relays. Mean while, China has mostly deflected the international criticism and told the world to stay out of their internal matters. Effectively, we the international community have been told to "mind our own business."

Many in Australia have joined the protest call for Tibetans to be given their democratic rights and choose their own path in the world. This point of view is the overwhelmingly correct political path to take. I also agree with this point of view. But how is it, that we in Australia also managed to deflect much of the international criticism handed our way during the Sydney Olympics? Now it appears that the world doesn't bother us too much, and we are allowed to go our own way, for better or worse.

I along with millions of Australians shed tears on February 13th when the Federal government apologised to the stolen generations of indigenous Australians. It was an important and long overdue step for our nation, and many Aboriginal people were grateful for the apology and step taken. May 13th followed February 13th with a $718.7 million budget pledge to "Close the Gap" between the quality of life for indigenous Australians and European Australians. The government deserve a chance to get it right and implement their policies. But it has to be said, that quality of life for indigenous Australians has to be among our highest priorities in Australia.

We love and adore our sport in Australia. We love nothing more than seeing an international team perform well. We love nothing more than hosting a major international tournament. But what happens, the next time we host a major international sports tournament such as a Football World Cup and the life expectancy of indigenous Australians is still 17 years less than the rest of the population? The rest of the world will look on Australia again and call to attention our human rights problems. Am I being pessimistic to say that the situation will not have improved by then? Time will tell, but money thrown at a problem does not usually solve it.

We can spend tax dollars on earning major international sporting events, but when we host them, is our country really worth showing off to the world? I argue that we need to earn the right to host these major tournaments. As a country we need to sort out our own problems before we start boasting to the rest of the world that our country is in order.

We owe it to the the original and continual custodians of Gondwana land. The Great South Land can still be as great as the one it could have been.

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