Monday, December 29, 2008

The Future of 20/20 Cricket – Can it, or should it, replace One-day Internationals?

The 20/20 game is becoming increasingly popular in both the domestic and international arena, and this provides a much needed opportunity to address the ever tightening schedules faced by international teams.

Closer inspection of this phenomena shows that in the near future it may well out-perform one-day internationals in terms of financial returns and crowd numbers. This format provides excitement in the form of big-hitting and the likelihood of a large number of wickets in a short period of time. It also attracts large numbers of people.

In addition to this, holding 50-over matches in a day-night format has proven the benefits of having evening cricket where people can come after work. The logical extension of this is that a match is played in its entirety in the evening or for that matter on a Sunday afternoon. People can go and do other things that day as well as attend the cricket. On a workday, this is extremely beneficial for crowd numbers. It also attracts those who like their cricket but perhaps not enough to spend a whole day at a ground. And let’s not forget that, particularly here in Australia, people may not be enticed by the prospect of sitting in 35ยบ C in full sun. Sitting under lights in the cool of the evening is likely to be a more attractive option. The huge success of the 20/20 World Cup is indicative of the potential of this game.

At this point I have to point out that I am a ‘traditionalist’ where cricket is concerned. Test matches are the pinnacle of international cricket, and that four-day games are the pinnacle for domestic players. I regularly go to the WACA to watch at least two days of the test match, however one-day cricket has never held the same attraction for me and I sometimes struggle to motivate myself to go. It is also a relative newcomer, having only been on the international stage since 1970. Having said that, I do acknowledge that there is a need to cater for shorter attention spans and a desire for more action and entertainment in the game.

I also acknowledge that one-day cricket has been instrumental in changing test match cricket for the better, leading to some of the best test cricket I have seen in recent years. However, the growing number of meaningless one-day tournaments that clog up the cricketing calendar are fast making this form of the game a burden rather than a benefit, a fact that is increasingly being commented on in the media by both players and spectators. Add to this the fact that one-day cricket is becoming very formulaic, with the middle 25 overs often being fairly tedious as fields go back and good shots fail to reap the value they deserve, and it could be argued that it is time for a change.

So let’s challenge the status quo! The 20/20 game provides a way to address this schedule for international teams if it substantially replaces the one-day game as the second string to a tour. Is this too radical? It’s certainly no more radical than when the one-day game first came into the spotlight. The reality is that people now want to live their lives at a faster pace, and the 20/20 game caters for this need while at the same time providing a great marketing opportunity.

Perhaps the way to go is to reduce the number of one-day internationals (perhaps a maximum of five) and play five 20/20 matches during a tour. After all, who remembers which team wins the one-day tournaments each year, and here in Australia, who can remember the third team that takes part? We do, however, remember who played the test matches and who won that series, because it is these matches that are the true test of cricketing skill.

So let’s do away with these meaningless one-day tournaments and get more people through the turnstiles to watch 20/20. They’ll have their fill of big-hitting, excellent fielding, and exciting finishes. They can see the whole match in three hours and fit it into their tight schedules. 20/20 provides a convenient way to maintain the financial health of the game, while at the same time reducing the match time of the players and ensuring that the game is marketed to a broad section of the population. The only true test of a nations cricketers is a Test match, so who really cares what the form the shorter matches take?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Current Affiars: Rescuing round-the-world sailors is well worth the cost.

The rescue of another yachtsmen, Yann Elies, competing in the Vendee Globe round-the-world race has once again reached the headlines, with some uncharitable commentators highlighting the so-called ‘cost’.

Those, particularly in Australia, that criticise the cost of such activities should bear in mind that many would not be living where they are today unless someone with an adventurous sprit had not boarded a boat and sailed into the wide blue yonder. While a comfortable and sedate experience is what many people long for, the human race would stagnate without those who try to push the boundaries in all sorts of fields and endeavours. There are indigenous races that may rue this adventurous sprit, and one cannot begrudge them this opinion, but exploration and competition appear to run in the blood of much of the human race.

Those that wish for the quiet life have every right to seek that experience, but they should not begrudge assistance to those who seek more active and physically challenging experiences. Just as some follow the suburban dream and conventional career paths, other dream of sailing the ocean or climbing mountains, or perhaps even going into space.

And as for the cost? Bean-counters use figures suggesting in excess of one million dollars, but is this real? Are the navy sailors not paid irrespective of whether they are at sea? Perhaps they get paid more at sea, but how much more? Is the fuel not going to be used at some point or another in the year? If not this voyage, then another. So what is the real cost of this rescue that wouldn’t otherwise be expended? I would hazard a guess that it is much less than the figures quoted.

I applaud those who still find ways in which to be adventurous and challenge the elements. They remind us that humans are a curious and dynamic animal that seeks out new experiences. We need to keep climbing mountains, sailing the oceans, exploring deep caves, the sea floor and the deserts. The alternative is that we become a risk-averse race that crawls along, afraid to take chances and nervous of challenges. Why should everyone be chained to their job? Why criticise those who choose to push the limits? In the long-run, their spirit of adventure benefits all of us, shows that the world can still be a wild and wonderful place, and reminds many of us of the origin of the cities where we live today.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Travel: The Snowman Trek (Part III, Days 4-6)

Day 4 (Rest day)

It was time to spend a day acclimatising to the altitude, but what do you do on a rest day?

Jangothang provided a magnificently scenic place where we consider what to do. The enthusiastic went off visit a nearby mountain lake, while the rest, including Miriam and I, decided that a day of rest and relaxation would be more appropriate. And besides, my dull headache. The previous night I had woken up with a thumping headache that I needed to treat with some painkillers. They had dulled the ache but I had not had a great night’s sleep even though I had kept my head elevated to try to prevent the build-up of fluid on the brain. I had been expecting a headache, but I never been at this altitude for a prolonged period of time and it had been much worse than I had expected.

(The domestic chores of a rest day)

The thing about this headache was that, if it did not improve or got worse, it could keep me from carrying on with the trek. It would be for my own health and safety, but the thought was still disquieting. The next day was the first high pass (4890 metres), after which there would be no way to walk out of the trek route without going over another high pass. And there was no way Sumit would let me do it if I hadn’t improved. He had started me on Diamox by now, which would help keep the fluid build-up as low as possible. Every year people die because they don’t properly recognise or deal with the symptoms of altitude sickness, so to have an experienced guide is something I would highly recommend. While we didn’t know it until we had completed the trek, a group walking a couple of days behind us, lost one of their number two days further on from Jangothang. It was a sobering message and made us appreciate the fact that we all made it through safely.

However, on our day of rest and acclimatization, the sun was shining and my headache was reasonably mild. The majestic peak of Jhomolhari towered above the campsite, its snow-covered flanks and peak glistening in the morning sun. It really is a magnificent peak. I spent most of the morning sitting in a chair doing a bit of reading and periodically becoming entranced by the mountain and spending what was probably hours just staring at it, watching clouds brush across the snow and listening to the distant sound of unseen avalanches. Jhomolhari is one of the mot sacred peaks in Bhutan, and at 7300 metres one of the highest. Nobody is allowed to climb it from the Bhutanese side, or any other mountain in excess of 6000 metres for that matter. I think this is a good thing. To leave some mystery in the world only makes it a more interesting place!

To make the day enjoyable, the crew had decided to make deep-fried sandwiches for a morning treat, and despite my raised cholesterol levels, I felt that I had to sample at least on of these culinary masterpieces. This was one of the first clues that our cook was going to excel on this trek. The group members who went wandering came back in the early afternoon, and I decided to explore the Jangothang site.

In addition to the stupendous views, there are also ruins of another 17th century fortress at this site. This one was adorned with many prayer flags, giving the scenery some colour and giving the ruins a festive feel. Like Drugyel Dzong, this fort is a relic of when the Bhutanese were defending their valleys against incursions from Tibet. We were to come across more on this trek; most just collections of stones that were crumbling, or just a distant jumble of rocks.

The rest day was over all too soon and we were all soon sitting around our trestle-table watching a feast of carbohydrates being brought out for us. We soon realised that this was a sign that the next day might be a tough one. Due to a camera malfunction that cost me a roll of film, I have no photos of the stunning Jhomolhari on the rest day...but take my word for it - it was magnificent! Below is the best I can do!

Day 5

That night I awoke with a splitting headache at about midnight and quickly accessed the painkillers I had brought for just an occasion. I had very little sleep for the rest of the night, but woke, with much relief, with no real headache a Diamox to take before breakfast.

So this was the day when we were going to climb our first high pass, Ngile La, which rises to 4885 metres. The day began with a gentle walk up the valley before we turned east and began the long climb up to the pass. The day was cloudy and this meant that we didn’t get to see the summit Jichu Drake, one of the more spectacular mountains in the region, however it did keep us cool. The trail soon turned very steep indeed. I was at the back of the group already feeling the pace, and wandering if all that training had been for nothing (I had been doing runs up to 20km long as part of my preparation).

It soon became a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and accepting that there simply is not the same amount of oxygen in the air up at this altitude. It was time to take things easy and it provided many opportunities to stop and admire the view back down the valley to our campsite. The previous night’s snowfall on the surrounding peaks added to the vista.

About two hours into the climb, it became a matter of setting myself into a rhythm and keeping going. My legs were feeling the 800 metre climb, and while I didn’t feel out of breath in any way, I could feel the tiredness coming on, along with a dull headache. After a short break we reached what looked like a flatter section, perhaps we were nearing the top.

However, when we turned the corner we were met with another climb that promised to tax us even further. At the valley’s head were snowy peaks, and between them, a saddle which promised to be the pass. Miriam, Sheila, and I put our heads down and trudged onwards and upwards. This was not so steep as the initial climb, but after that steep early section, together with my body rebelling against the lack of oxygen, it felt just as tough, if not more so. By this time we had probably climbed about 400-500 metres, only another 300 to go!

(View back toward Jangothang)

Approximately 3 hours in and I was wondering why I was not still sitting back at the camp with a deep-fried sandwich! Of course, they’d packed up by then and I could see the loaded yaks coming up the mountain some distance behind me, catching me up if I was any judge. The pass looked close now, but one of the crew, who sauntered past me with incredible ease, told me that it was probably at least an hour away at my pace. To make me feel better he told me that our leader was with two people even further behind than us. It gave me a sort of perverse pleasure to know that someone was suffering more than me. Terrible, I know, but I blame it on my oxygen-starved mind.

Eventually the pass came into sight, marked by the multi-coloured prayer-flags that were fluttering in the considerable, and cold, breeze. Howling gale would be a more appropriate description. By now I was carrying a couple of lead weights in each of my legs and could not manage more than a few dozen steps at a time, small steps I might add, even with the pass so tantalisingly close.

With only about fifty metres of climbing to go, I was reduced to counting twenty steps at a time and stopping for a breather, but even this proved too much, and with the prayer-flags within spitting distance, I was reduced to ten steps at a time. I hoped to god that all the passes were not going to be like this because I had ten more to go on the trek after this one.

The freezing gale helped propel me up the last few metres and all of a sudden I was on a gentle downhill slope. My legs, still with their lead attachments, carried my down far enough to sit out of the wind, and gaze across the bleak, but magnificent, landscape that lay before me. The dry landscape was framed by the mountain peaks that lined the horizon beneath a broken layer of cloud. Miriam took some photos, but I just felt awful and didn't worry.

Once I had sat down, we thought about having some lunch, although I must admit that I wasn’t feeling that hungry. After Sumit caught us, he headed on to catch up with the rest of the group, telling us that Margo and Neil were not far behind. This was one of the most enjoyable rests that I had on the whole trek, and I was pretty reluctant to get up again, but we still had a few hours walking to go before we reached our camp near Lingshi.

The descent started well enough, my body rejoicing in the downhill gradient, however, after about two hours, the physical toll of my fist real climb stated to have an effect, and I could feel my legs going weak at the knees. The descent took us down into some lovely forests, but I was far too tired to take much notice, only concentrating on putting one foot in front of other and watching out for treacherous parts of the track.

After about four hours I was wondering if the day would ever end, and looking up in hope every time we came around a corner with new view of the valley below to see if our tents were in sight. The descent turned into a bit of a blur as I fought my way through the fatigue. Thankfully at four-thirty, we saw our tents, but this was just a tease! We still had to clamber down a steep and rocky slope, making way for yaks at the same time as they passed us on the way the camp. After another forty minutes of fatigued walking, we finally reached the camp and I don’t think I could even manage a smile as I sat on a log. Miriam was kind enough to lay out my sleeping bag in the tent and I gratefully lay down, only lifting my head to talk to Sumit when he came by to see how I was feeling – bloody awful!

However, after two hours of lying down, and a cup of tea and some chocolate, I was feeling a lot my like myself again. I managed to get up to have dinner, and another dose of Diamox. As I sat and ate my daily intake of carbohydrates with some vegetables, I fervently hoped that I was over the worst of it. Thankfully it was. I slept like a log that night.

Day 6

I awoke feeling 100% better than the previous day. We started with a short but hard climb up to the Lingshi Dzong, guarding the Lingshi pass that crosses into Tibet to the north. The view from this place are fantastic, with the rugged mountains stretching in all directions. The dzong here is also a centre for traditional medicine, and there were many herbs drying in the sun. Inside the dzong there were some relics of the colonial influence, with some old firearms on the walls from that era. We left a donation, spent some time looking around the old building, and then made our along the track towards Chebise.

We walked along a track carved into the steep mountainsides and up to a mid-level pass. It was a steep climb up to what was more of a ridge than a pass, but nothing like the previous day. The views were, as usual, fantastic. We then made our way along more paths down to the village of Goyok, where we stopped for lunch. It was a great stew (probably mutton or yak) and we ate in the courtyard of one of the houses, sitting among the various drying meats and greenery. The view coming down into Goyok is one of the best of the trek, with the village sitting in a narrow valley, surrounded by sheer rock faces.

(View coming in Goyok)

Above the village is one of the oldest monasteries in Bhutan, Goed Dzong, built in the 16th century as far as I could tell from our guide. Like many of the dzongs, it has been renovated through work by the local villagers. It sits carved into the mountainside, however we did not visit it.

We carried on towards Chebise, walking on paths that clung to steep mountainsides, promising a long fall if one of the many landslides that we clambered over decided to move at any time. Chebise provided a welcome campsite, and a view towards the waterfall at the head of the valley. I felt good now, still taking the Diamox, but no headaches any more. I was adjusting to the altitude, but I continued taking the drug until we reached Laya, the mid-point of the trek.

(view towards Chebise)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Travel: The Snowman Trek (Part II - days 1-3)

Day 1

The official start of the Snowman Trek was in the shadow of the overgrown Drugyel Dzong, an old 17th century fort that now looks somewhat time-weary. It was a humid day; the monsoon had decided to linger later than usual. It gave the sun some extra bite, the humid air magnifying the intensity. I began the trek with a leaky bladder, and I hasten to add that I am talking about my water carrier in my pack, which promised to cause me much hassle if I was not careful. I hurriedly acquired a few 1.5 litre plastic water bottles to make sure I was properly equipped. They lasted the whole trip too!

(Drugyel Dzong)

In the warm, humid air, we began strolling along the lush valley, passing a holy man burning something with an interesting smell. Then we got into the mud. It would not usually be this muddy but for the late monsoon. The rocks were covered in slippery mud, and where there were no rocks, the mud sucked at our boots. It made for a very tough first day, an energy-sapping day where the hours merged into one long endurance test making the customary hard first day, harder than expected.

Stopping at the Gunitswa Army Camp to have our trekking permits checked, provided a good excuse top stop and sit down on a bench for a while and admire the surrounding mountains. By the time we reached the campsite (Shana), it was getting towards evening and nearing twilight. It was a pleasant campsite, with the Paro River gushing past and providing a foreground to traditional farmhouse illuminated by the soft evening sun. At 2890 metres, nobody was suffering from the altitude in any significant way. I slept well that night.

(Paro River at Shana)

Day 2

Our intrepid leader, Sumit, had informed us on the previous evening that the second day was going to be full of ups and downs, and that we would be climbing over 600 metres in altitude. In reality, we would probably be climbing more than 1400 metres once all the ups and downs were completed. It was on this day that people started to feel the effects of the thinner air as we went higher. There were some pale faces on the trail, and we came across one person vomiting as a result of the effects. At this altitude, it isn’t usually too serious, but there were people were in some distress. Neither Miriam nor I were suffering anything more than a bit of breathlessness from the reduced oxygen, at this stage.

This was a bit of an endurance test, and although we went slowly, it remained tough all day, as our bodies protested at the altitude. There was, thankfully, less mud on this day, and we visited a small settlement where the locals treated us to some stew for lunch. It was a pleasant surprise and a respite from never-ending trail. It was no more than three houses in a high and remote valley, but it was a place to sit and take the weight off our feet, and have some yak meat (probably) and fresh vegetables.

Our pack horses passed us relatively early in the day, carrying our gear to the next campsite. We would get used to getting off the narrow trail to them pass, and look forward to the chance to sit down for five minutes every now and then, particularly in the steep mountain sections.

Following lunch, we entered birch and larch forests and would soon come across the rhododendrons. Bhutan has almost fifty species of rhododendrons and often has perfume companies come to extract scents to work on. You could say it is the national plant of Bhutan…but then again, maybe not! There are also hundreds of species of orchids. The rhododendrons are used for domestic uses including traditional medicine, incense, and woodcarving.

As we climbed higher, each hill became harder and I began to wonder exactly how far ahead the camp lay. As the day wore on, we trudged through steep-sided valley that took sunlight away early in the evening. Shadows from the surrounding peaks crept across the path, increasing the gloom. This effect was magnified when walking through dense forest, making it important to watch the ground carefully so that we didn’t turn an ankle on the one of the numerous rocks. We spent some time wondering whether we would make camp before dark. We did, but only just.

On the way we came across a large chorten festooned with prayer-flags. A fellow traveler (Margie, I think) saw our fatigued expressions, and told us to look up and to the left. Our fatigue faded away as the summit of Jhomolhari towered up in the distance, its snow-covered peak glistening in the evening sun. It was a magical sight; we were close to the snow. The view and moment are still etched into my memory.

(Jhomolhari at sunset)

In another half an hour we were at the campsite (Soi Thangthanka) and gratefully sitting down with a cup of tea. We had covered 22km in about ten hours and were now at 3800 metres. That night I got my first altitude headache of the trek, but I still managed a reasonable night’s sleep. It was hard not to sleep after that day.

Day 3

A dull throbbing headache greeted me on the morning of the third day. My body was keen to tell that I was at altitude. This didn’t surprise me, as the only other time I had been up to this height (also in Bhutan) I had suffered the same headache. Being an optimistic type, I thought that a little bit of walking would sort it out.

Cloud shrouded the surrounding peaks, as we had a quick breakfast and then headed off onwards and upwards. We passed through some small collections of houses, somewhat optimistically called villages in the trip notes I have subsequently read. For me this day was one of dull headaches and other than that, it was uneventful. The trail followed the Paro River We climbed almost five hundred metres before reaching Jangothang, at 4100 metres (also called Jhomolhari base camp, although it is no longer possible to climb this mountain, at least from the Bhutanese side). We had climbed about 1800 metres in the last three days and I was certainly looking forward to the rest day.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Philosophy: Are you an optimist of pessimist? There is no middle ground.

I am an unashamed optimist. I generally see the possibility of a positive outcome, in fact I tend to think of it as the most likely outcome. I am sometimes proven wrong! I find pessimism difficult to understand, however I think it plays an important part in a successful society. Just don’t try to mask it by calling it realism. Realism suggests an ability to predict the future, an almost god-like quality.

It is my belief that there is no such things as a realist, because the reality of a future event is unknown, and only becomes apparent after the event has occurred, no matter how easy or difficult it is to predict the result . Prior to this there is only conjecture about what will occur, and all conjecture has a bias towards pessimism or optimism depending on the outlook of the individual concerned.

Pessimists are generally acknowledged to have a bias towards less than satisfactory outcomes, a negative view of the future. Optimists have the opposite outlook. Pessimists might not necessarily believe a bad outcome will result, but given a choice of potential outcomes they are likely to choose the one that is less positive. Optimists will choose to believe that the better outcome will occur. Pessimists may see the downside of a current situation, while optimists choose to focus on the positive aspects. The classic example being the glass half-full or half-empty conundrum.

Optimists are dreamers. They see positive outcomes in the most dire of situations. They will confidently march into the dark with a sunny outlook to cast some light, taking setbacks as mere speedbumps on the way to the good outcome that lies somewhere ahead. Of course I’m sure the officer overseeing the charge of the Light Brigade was also an optimist, probably verging on the insane type, as were the generals who decided that trench warfare would get them significant gains in the First World War. Or perhaps they were simply not in possessions of all the facts. This, however, does not necessarily (and sometimes unfortunately) prevent an optimist from making a decision.

Many pessimists steadfastly maintain that they are realists, however in my view, this merely shows them to be in denial about their own pessimism. The half-empty glass is a classic example of this, there is only a choice between the positive or the negative. Many will argue strenuously, in the case of future events, that they are looking at empirical evidence (the interpretation of which can be subjective and therefore pessimistic or optimistic) from similar past events where outcomes may not have been good, and that they are merely projecting a likely outcome. However, such a view does not allow for a different, more positive outcome than what has happened in the past, and is therefore pessimistic. I would go as far to say that the vast majority, if not all, of people who say they are realists, are pessimists.

The crucial point about optimists and pessimists is that we need both of them to make sure that important decisions are made properly, with the appropriate amount of consideration of outcomes. In world where there was only pessimists, very little would change and it is likely our psyche would most likely be permanently damaged. In a world full of optimists, it is likely that it wouldn’t be long before we ran head-on into a brick wall that didn’t move. It could be disastrous. But we do need decisions to be made.

And it is also true that most people alternate between optimism and pessimism depending on the situation they find themselves in. This is only natural as we are emotional creatures. Only very few of us are consistently of one frame of mind or the other. And we all know how annoying the constant optimist or pessimist can be.

So don’t say you are being a realist when you are being a pessimist. If you can’t see the positive outcomes in a situation, admit it and get on with explaining why the optimist might be on the wrong track. If you are an optimist, acknowledge that the pessimist has a role to play in tempering your enthusiasm and natural wish to keep the sun-shining, in order that you don’t find yourself on a path to destruction.

Please, just don’t call yourself a realist. ‘Realism’ simply doesn’t exist before an event has taken place.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Sport - the great allrounder

The are some out there at least those who remain unenlightened, that appear to regard sport as some sort of second class activity that threatens their more cerebral pursuits in some way through its popularity. The idea that governments are so willing to spend money on sporting events, people or codes is a waste, and is apparently somewhat offensive. After all, this is money that could go on more intellectual pursuits and the arts.

While nobody can deny that a healthy and enquiring mind is one of the most important parts of being an effective functioning human being, that on its own will only deliver a portion of a person’s potential. The physical body within which the mind is carried is also a vital part of a person.

Athletes are merely using the human body in a way that it was designed for. The human has not evolved to its current state to be sedentary. Sitting at a desk all day is not what the body is intended for. We need to move. We have bones which need to carry the weight otherwise they will become brittle through inactivity. We have muscles which will weaken and not support our body properly if we let them atrophy. Getting the blood pumping around oxygenates the brain and can help us to think more clearly. It also improves, in the long term, our blood pressure. Exercise also has beneficial impacts on cholesterol levels. This is by no means a comprehensive list but it demonstrates that there are physical benefits from playing sports, however it is true that you do not have to play sports to get these benefits, which you might also get from a daily walk or other form of exercise. This has the potential to save a great deal in terms of the cost of society’s health care. The cost of not funding sport might outweigh the costs of funding as it is today. However, the physical benefits to muscles, bones, and the circulatory system are only part of the benefits of sporting activity.

In addition to physical benefits, there are intellectual benefits that come from sporting activity as well as experiences that can benefit the human spirit. When running or swimming, I certainly find myself entering a calm, and almost meditative, state which helps in dealing with the day-to-day stresses of modern life. It is a haven of peace where the space is mine, and mine alone. Participants in team sports find camaraderie and the sense of belonging, which might not be something easy to achieve, and learn a great deal of interpersonal skills and the opportunity to apply strategic thinking to a problem. It also allows a creative outlet and puts into action that side of the brain related to coordination and lateral thinking, thereby assisting our ability to solve complex problems.

Spectators of sports find much joy, and sometimes angst, in watching their favourite teams or individuals in their preferred sporting event. As with the arts, there are also aesthetic rewards to sport. The aesthetic pleasure of watching an effortless cover-drive at a cricket match is as pleasing to the cricket-lover as an exquisite painting is to an art connoisseur, or a classic poem to a lover of literature. The can be said for the high mark in football, or the perfect cross in a game of soccer. Sport, as with the arts, can provide a huge emotional uplift where a day is otherwise proving to be mundane or disappointing.

But there is still more. Sport provides an outlet for competitive spirit, and most of us are competitive in some form or another, albeit sometimes reluctant to admit it. The more physically inclined look to sport to provide an outlet for this urge to compete, while intellectuals and academics may compete in the area of publications, and artists may compete for prestigious prizes or awards. No matter who we are, we all get a bit competitive, only some choose not to see the parallels with activities outside their own pursuits (and this applies to sporting people too), or are in denial that they are competitive at all. Competition also teaches the young about dealing with failure and overcoming adverse situations, something that they will need to do in their adult life. Some out there will have a philosophical outlook that this sort of competition is not healthy for one reason or another, but they are being competitive themselves by trying to convince others of their arguments.

There is no excuse for looking down in sport because it’s not your pursuit of choice. It provides many of the same benefits to its devotees as intellectual pursuits do, and is no less worthy. To those who might not have been fortunate enough to have been brought up in an environment conducive to educational excellence or intellectual development, it provides an essential outlet for competitive spirit and a good way to let off steam in what might be a depressing and frustrating environment. Those that think that paying someone to represent the country at sport is a waste of taxpayer’s money obviously have trouble thinking outside their own world view of what is important for our society as a whole.

Just as movie stars get paid millions of dollars to play a role in a film because they will attract huge numbers of people to the cinemas, sporting stars also get paid commensurate with their ability to draw people through the turnstiles. They give pleasure to many and get rewarded accordingly. This is simply a reflection of the number of people willing to see them perform, and the consequent financial spin-offs for those paying performers in the first place. For the same reasons, the money flowing into the arts and intellectual pursuits is not as great.

This does not deny their crucial role in society. The evolution of our philosophical approach to life, government, economics, and social development in general is of paramount importance, but it is the preserve of relatively few; those with the reputation and ability to argue their cases. I have spent many enjoyable hours listening to the Western Australian Symphony Orchestra, strolling around the art galleries and museums of our capital cities, or reading and writing poetry. I enjoy these pursuits, and would not wish them to disappear.

These pursuits, however, do not provide the same package of cognitive, spiritual and physical development as sports do. Sports have developed to fulfill this need and, hopefully, keep us from physical conflict. They are unashamed in their appeal to the masses and this is how it should be. For those unwilling to acknowledge the role sports play, this is perhaps more of a reflection of their competitiveness relating to their own favourite pursuit’s lack of attention and funding. Or maybe it’s pure green-eyed jealousy at its worst, brought on by the equivalent of throwing a tantrum and then going away to sulk. I would be very comfortable if the same amount was spent on Olympic athletes for the London games as was for the Beijing games, the various sporting academies, and on grassroots level sports.