I’ve always been a fan of sport; as a player, as a spectator and especially as a parent. It teaches teamwork, perseverance, discipline, sportsmanship which can be applied on the court and off, and it builds confidence no matter what a person’s level of expertise is.
Unfortunately, there is often less to be proud of on the sports page than there is to be disappointed in. Perhaps its the 24 hours news cycle, the disproportionate level of adulation professional sports people receive or an absence of good ethical management – quite possibly its a blatant lack of discipline in athletes themselves. Too often, we make heroes out of villains and accept below parr behaviour from our sports stars in the name of sporting success.
Liz Ellis wrote an excellent piece last week about the Netball World Cup which concluded yesterday, which raised the point that the event had been played with very little drama – the headlines, (of which it received a modest, but surprising share), were dominated by excellent results and great stories, and not by controversy.
Among the great yarns which will be recounted in years to come was the rise and rise of the Malawi Queens, who lost to World Number 4 Jamaica by just 1 goal and came within two goals of New Zealand. A remarkable feat for a team made up largely of amateur athletes. Among the Queens’ achievements was the emergence of talented goal shooter Kumwende, who was named player of the tournament. Kumwende is the only Malawian that plays in the ANZ Championship. The success of the Ugandan team was also a pleasant surprise, with wins over the higher ranked Fiji and Zambia.
But by far the greatest story was the victorious departure from the world stage of Australian Diamond Julie Corletto. At just 27 years old, Corletto has been forced to retire from all levels of professional netball due to chronic injury. Despite multiple surgeries during her career, Corletto has consistently been one of the best players in the world, and certainly one of the greatest athletes to have played the sport internationally. And in breaking news this morning, it has been revealed that Corletto played the grand final with a broken foot. I have seen this woman play through chronic injury and watched her finish a grand final with a freshly broken nose; but the professionalism that she displayed during a grand final in a sport that punishes feet more than any other rates amongst my favourite sporting moments of all time.
How much the papers would make of this feat if it had been a Bledisloe Cup or State of Origin decider that a player completed with a broken bone. In contrast, Corletto simply got on with the task at hand and a day later continues to fly under the radar in her signature unassuming way.
Last week my son asked me to tell him a story about a great hero for his school news, and I couldn’t think of one. I shouldn’t have had to think so hard – Corletto defines everything that is great about sport. She is never the flashiest player on court but often the most effective, displaying moments of great teamwork. And while her career was plagued by injury, it did provide the opportunity for her to show great displays of perseverance and discipline. No whinging. No social media outbursts, and no wild escapades. A quiet achiever, but a hero all the same.
The Quade Coopers, Todd Carneys and Nick Kyrgios’ of the sporting landscape should be taking notes; this is what a real hero looks like. Its not about flick passes or 250km an hour serves. It’s about service to the sport, leaving your heart and soul on the court and supporting your teammates. When it comes to sporting heroes, we are looking in the wrong place.
It shouldn’t be so hard to understand – these are all traits that Australians consider to be part of our national identity. It’s not hard to find real heroes, even if they aren’t always in the sports pages as much as they should be.