2822963411_baf25e1da8_bI am taking part in a CSIRO Cafe Scientifique event on Canberra Day (11 March). I am delighted to be a panel member with David Rowe and Paul Fairweather. Stefan Hajkowicz is the facilitator.

The topic is What is shaping the future of Australian sport?


I have been thinking and writing about the future of sport of late. Recently, I have posted:
A year ago I wrote about Stefan Hajkowicz’s work on the Future of Australian Sport. I noted then that Stephen and his colleagues had identified six megatrends in sport in Australia. These were:
  1. From extreme to mainstream (the rise of lifestyle sports)
  2. New wealth, new talent (economic growth and sports development in Asia)
  3. Everybody’s game (demographic, generational and cultural change)
  4. More than sport (attainment of health, community and overseas aid objectives through sport)
  5. A perfect fit (personalised sport and tailored training systems)
  6. Tracksuits to business suits (market pressures and new business models)
2577007801_5756fdd242_bI have been thinking about these megatrends. I have been thinking about some earlier work undertaken by Stephen and his colleagues that looked at Megatrends and Megashocks. CSIRO published Our Future World: an analysis of global trends, shocks and scenarios in April 2010. This report noted that a megatrend “is a collection of trends, patterns of economic, social or environmental activity that will change the way people live and the science and technology products they demand.” The report identifies five interrelated megatrends:
  • More from less. This relates to the world’s depleting natural resources and increasing demand for those resources through economic and population growth. Coming decades will see a focus on resource use efficiency.
  • A personal touch. Growth of the services sector of western economies is being followed by a second wave of innovation aimed at tailoring and targeting services.
  • Divergent demographics. The populations of OECD countries are ageing and experiencing lifestyle and diet related health problems. At the same time there are high fertility rates and problems of not enough food for millions in poor countries.
  • On the move. People are changing jobs and careers more often, moving house more often, commuting further to work and travelling around the world more often.
  • i World. Everything in the natural world will have a digital counterpart. Computing power and memory storage are improving rapidly. Many more devices are getting connected to the internet.

The Report identified eight megashocks relevant to Australia (a ‘megashock’ is “a significant and sudden event; the timing and magnitude of which are very hard to predict):

  • Asset price collapse
  • Slowing Chinese economy
  • Oil and gas price spikes
  • Extreme climate change related weather
  • Pandemic
  • Biodiversity loss
  • Terrorism
  • Nanotechnology risks
During this period I have followed discussions about the Crawford Report and the more recent discussions about the Winning Edge. I have been particularly interested in thinking about the ecology of Australian sport during this time. I found it fascinating to consider the synchronicity of the launch of The Winning Edge and the publication of Tim Flannery’s Quarterly essay, After the Future: Australia’s New Extinction Crisis.
I am following the Australian Academy of Science project “Australia 2050: Towards an environmentally and economically sustainable and socially equitable ways of living”. I think we can learn a great deal from deliberation about learning loops. This week Beth Fulton, Steven Cork and Nicky Grigg have shared some of the work of the 2050 Group.

Other Voices

3675431410_4f2a1d179d_oIn thinking about the future of Australian sport, I have been re-visiting a number of authors. These include:

George Orwell’s (1945) The Sporting Spirit.

Nearly all the sports practised nowadays are competitive. You play to win, and the game has little meaning unless you do your utmost to win. On the village green, where you pick up sides and no feeling of local patriotism is involved. it is possible to play simply for the fun and exercise: but as soon as the question of prestige arises, as soon as you feel that you and some larger unit will be disgraced if you lose, the most savage combative instincts are aroused.

Johan Huizinga and his writings on Homo Ludens.

One of his five characteristics of play is “play is connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained from it”. He argues that “civilization is, in its earliest phases, played. It does not come from play…it arises in and as play, and never leaves it”.

Roger Caillois and his discussion of Man, Play and Games. Callois presents a taxonomy of play and games and proposes that there are four play forms and two types of play. The forms are: agon (competition); alea (chance); mimicry (role playing); and ilinx (pursuit of vertigo and altering perception).  A Wikipedia article on the 1961 translation of the 1958 French text points out that these four forms of play take place on a continuum of two types of play (ludus and paidia):

from ludus, structured activities with explicit rules (games), to paidia, unstructured and spontaneous activities (playfulness), although in human affairs the tendency is always to turn paidia into ludus, and that established rules are also subject to the pressures of paidia.

Caillois observes “It is this process of rule-forming and re-forming that may be used to account for the apparent instability of cultures”. He points out (in 1958) a tendency for a corruption of the values of play in everyday life.

John Hoberman‘s discussions of Sport and Political ideology (1984), Mortal Engines (1992) and Testosterone Dreams (2005). John Hoberan has had a significant impact on my thinking in the last thirty years. He prompted me to think deeply about sportive expressionism and dehumanisation at a time when I was actively involved in international sport, seeking to optimise performance through probabilistic models of success.

At times like this I return to Gregory Stone. Fifty-eight years ago, his paper, American sports: Play and display, was published in the Chicago Review (9: 83–100). In it he observes:

Play and dis-play are precariously balanced in sport, and, once that balance is upset, the whole character of sport in society may be affected. Furthermore, the spectacular element of sport may, as in the case of American professional wrestling, destroy the game. The rules cease to apply, and the “cheat” and the “spoilsport” replace the players.

A Future for Sport?

As my contribution to the discussions at the Cafe Scientifique, I will propose that for a sustainable future for Australian sport, we should:

  • De-emphasise the acquisition of nation state status through sporting achievement  and recognise the intrinsic value of play, games and sport.
  • Accept the 2000 Olympics as the high-water mark for Australian sport (other than the professional football codes).
  • Think very carefully about providing opportunities for late specialisation in sport.
  • Accept that the quest for television coverage has commodified sport and recognise that we are responsible for this.
  • Lament that despite all our efforts there is cheating in sport and we have hypokinetic diseases.
  • Re-calibrate our thresholds of repugnance.

I think we should celebrate:

… and listen to some of the least privileged children in our society:

AS0000154F06 Primary school children, sports day

In December 2012, the New Zealand Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty presented its Priorities and Recommendations. There were seventy-eight recommendations in total. I was particularly interested in Recommendation 72 from the children interviewed by the Advisory Group. They recommended that:

all local governments ensure that parks, playgrounds and public spaces are safe and welcoming for children, and free leisure and recreational activities are available, especially in disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

Photo Credits

Surf Life Saving (New South Wales Maritime, CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Rough Sea (Victoria Rachitzky, CC BY 2.0)

Geen hulp voor Giusto Cerutti (Natinaal Archief, No known copyright restrictions)

Primary school children, sports day (Anthea Sieveking, CC BY 2.0)


Perhaps it is a product of age but I hope not.

The product … a commitment to the integrity of sport through an absolute acceptance of the rules and laws of games.

Last week I wrote about the play spirit that connects us in games and sport. I think it is an immensely powerful connection.

Reading USADA’s report on the Lance Armstrong investigation was an overwhelming reminder that rules do not bring about conformity but a different kind of non-conformity. I wondered naively why any athlete would seek to dope if our contract in sport is with the essence of playfulness.

I do struggle with arguments that emphasise that “there is a lot at stake” to rationalise any form of cheating. I am nervous that such arguments transform our threshold of repugnance (Elias) and increase our selective indignation (Lunn).

I did like Matt Hickey’s take on these issues in a Drum post. He observes “Winning isn’t everything, but the existing incentive structure for athletes certainly places a large emphasis on it – and it comes with increasingly large costs”.

My hope is that we can address the incentive structure in all sport, starting with the nation state. In my naivety I do hope we have gone beyond equating winning in international competition as an index of status. I wonder if we might develop an alternative indicator … evidence of athletes, coaches and scientists working to support acceptance of the laws and rules of games. What a remarkable sport system we would have without a Prisoner’s Dilemma.


Photo Credit

Rainbow Valley

From Gambol to Gamble and Back Again

I have been thinking about gambling and drinking recently.

Not as personal life choice but …

I have been wondering what I can do to support initiatives that mitigate the effects of both activities.

I believe profoundly in the cultural benefits of play and note that ‘to gambol’ is ‘to jump about in play’.

There has been considerable debate in Australia about the growing presence of betting messages on televised sporting events. This involves a different kind of ‘gamble’.

At a press conference on the 27 May held to report events at the COAG Select Council on Gambling, Stephen Conroy said:

… all of the Ministers have agreed that we should put forward proposals, ultimately possibly legislation, to reduce and control the promotion of in-game betting. There’s a very insidious culture starting to develop that is targeting the vulnerable and the young as they’re attending sporting events, as they’re watching on television sporting events, and all Ministers felt that this was a very necessary step for the Commonwealth to take.

There are a variety of issues that we will seek to have discussions with the industry about, to discuss the scope of this. And all Ministers also agreed the racing industry should be exempt from this process as the betting goes to the whole integrity of what the racing industry does, how it raises it funds, how it provides its money. So racing is exempt and all Ministers were very in agreement on that. So we’re going to give the broadcasting industry twelve months to resolve these issues, to introduce self-regulation. And if they are not able to or are unwilling to, we will be introducing legislation dated from today, the start date will be today, to reduce and control the promotion of live betting odds.

Three days later (30 May) DrinkWiseAustralia announced the establishment of a partnership with the Sport Australia Hall of Fame to develop the Under Your Influence campaign “that picks up on the crucial role parents and other influential adults play as role models”. The campaign has seven sporting ambassadors and more information about John Bertrand, Robert de Castella, Liz Ellis, Mike McKay, Kieren Perkins, Susie O’Neill, Andrew Rochford, and Sue Stanley’s participation can be found here.

I think both announcements are very important. Some sports receive significant income from gambling and alcohol sponsorship. Given the importance attached to sport as a character-building activity and its potential to embody moral education, I believe that any attempt to bring the gambol back into play is to be welcomed.

The alternative is to accept that some play has become display and spectacle and to accept a completely different rationale for sporting behaviour. If we do accept the display and spectacle argument and move to a different form of activity then, as Norbert Elias suggested in The Civilizing Process, societies must be vigilant about the thresholds to repugnance that characterise them.


This post was written on International Children’s Day. It is interesting to note that Wikipedia has the following entry for Australia: “Children’s Day is the second Sunday in July, but is not widely known or celebrated”.

Photo Credit

Boys playing basketball outside