The biggest local sports story of the week is Andrew Redmayne’s heroic deployment of all possible resources to stop Peruvian penalty takers and send Australia to the World Cup.
The smallest is Redmayne’s cynical deployment of all possible resources to achieve the same end. That story gets told somewhere else.
It’s always fun to observe the double, triple and quadruple standards of Australians when it comes to sportsmanship. We could applaud Redmayne’s marvellous skill in saving those shots – on top of so much to admire in the campaign, from the hellish journey to the intercontinental play-off, the Socceroos’ edge over Peru in the game, through to Graham Arnold’s winning gamble in bringing Redmayne on for the shootout – while politely averting our eyes from the goalkeeper’s antics in putting off the Peruvian shooters and then swiping and throwing away the opposing goalkeeper’s notes on the Australians. But instead of blushing at those rather questionable ethics, most of us have celebrated them as the icing on the cake, the cheek and ‘enterprise’ on top of the skill.
Funny old world game. Imagine if it was the Peruvian keeper who stole our guy’s notes and leapt about like a dandelion on the breeze to get inside our shooters’ heads. All Australia would be up on its hind legs about cheating and poor form. We’d even embargo Peru’s pure-as-the-driven-snow agricultural imports. Maybe.
Australians are pretty good at taking umbrage. Poor Peru, which struggles to get its voice heard in the world, has issued statements about Redmayne’s ‘dirty’ play. Criticism has emanated from England. I know this because on Twitter his actions have been repeatedly described as ‘shithousery’ and ‘elite shithousing’. No, I’d never heard this term either. Through etymological fingerprinting, it can be traced back to English soccer, where it refers to what we polite folk would call a blackguard or a scoundrel. In some parts of the world, Redmayne is seen not as a loveable hero but a borderline cheat.
Australians, meanwhile, have blinkered themselves from this because ... it’s us! Who can’t love us? And look at this big goofy Grey Wiggle … how could anyone not love him? Even though it’s the world game, we close our borders to criticism and have a party on our little self-governing ethical island.
Beneath the chauvinism are some actual arguments to support Redmayne’s ethics. The Peruvian goalkeeper, Pedro Gallese, was engaging in his own gamesmanship by taking a minute’s silence before allowing the Australians to take their shots. His list of notes was not the product of clever and respectful research but a cheat sheet, and by removing it Redmayne was simply levelling the playing field. Shooters are always putting goalies off by stuttering and feinting in their run-ups to the ball, so goalies should feel free to do the same. And Redmayne, who has an impressive record of saving penalties throughout his professional career, would have saved those shots anyway. And ... it’s us! ... and we had to battle past so many more obstacles than Peru did! And ... Arnie!
So we file away the ethics under Miscellaneous, as the Herald’s one-time cricket writer, the great Mike Coward, says about things you can neither look at squarely nor quite ignore. Filed under Miscellaneous was the common Australian attitude to David Warner before 2018. Sure, he crosses the line sometimes, but … look at the way he hits the ball! He’s a winner! And … he’s one of us! And … we know where that ended up.
Redmayne’s actions can be considered within the pale of what the world game regards as sportsmanlike. The man himself told reporters: “If we had notes on our drink bottle and if someone saw that, it would have been thrown a long way away ... I know how much it means to the boys so it was kind of like a kill-or-be-killed moment, so I took my moment.”
Whether he did cross the line interests me less than the minute-by-minute shifting of where that line is, and the public discussion, or lack of discussion, that follows.
There’s a sort of sliding scale between ethical expectations and the size of the event. If this were a school match and a goalkeeper acted this way, you would have field invasions by parents and the furious exchange of letters followed by a public apology on the principal’s letterhead. Small worlds demand high standards. But the FIFA World Cup is at the biggest sporting event on earth. Harden up, Toto, we’re not in Kansas any more. This is the big wide nasty world where the greatest of all time is the bloke who scored a goal with his hand. This is the world of institutionalised cheating, in the form of faking injury to con referees into match-changing decisions. This is the representation of eight billion people, where anything goes in the pursuit of victory. Kill or be killed.
Squeamishness about the spirit of the game, in this global context, is sneered at as a small-country, small-code overhang of British colonialism. By giving a big up-yours to Peru’s complaints, Australia supposes itself to have acted like the grown-ups. It’s interesting to see how the extremely patriotic justification of actions that would not be accepted if they were perpetrated against us sits alongside the xenophobic dog-whistling view of South Americans, who apparently deserve every bit of underhand conduct that they get because they’re the ones who invented it. How tough we are now.
Also interesting is the silence. I’m not sure if this is the censoring effect of an outbreak of my-country-right-or-wrong or the fear of a social media pile-on, but the qualms do seem noticeable by their absence. On the radio, Mark Schwarzer was monologuing about how great it all was. His interviewer, Richard Glover, tried to squeak up by asking if Redmayne’s actions might be considered, um, just a little bit unsportsmanli … Schwarzer ploughed on, repeating how great it was.
Sure, dancing around like Redmayne wasn’t something Schwarzer ever did, and yes, it would have put the Peruvians off, and no, Schwarzer would never have stolen a fellow goalkeeper’s notes ... but hey, we’re going to the World Cup, isn’t it great! Go Arnie, a little Aussie bleeder if ever there was one. Gotta love Arnie. And go Our Redders, who, even without the shithousery, would still have saved those shots. As long as we can keep our borders strong and enjoy our self-defined ethical standards, we can feel that we belong among all the countries of the world.
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