Archive for the ‘Sport’ Category


We’ve just registered Chatterboy for his first soccer season – he’ll be in the Under 6s. We thought long and hard about it, as we’re not sure he’s going to enjoy it at the beginning, but think it’s really important to learn a social sport that you can continue throughout life.

So we found a few friends of Chatterboy’s who will also be starting in the under 6s (sadly the girls we knew weren’t interested) and thought we could sweeten the deal by having them all in the same team so that they could have fun together. As an added benefit, we might be able to carpool as we criss cross our bit of Sydney to go to all the games on Saturday mornings.

No way apparently. The club explained to us that because, in a few years, they will be grading them properly by ability, they have to grade them now, even at the very beginning, to toughen them up for the idea that they can only play with children of the same ability. You have to make friends with the people dumped in your team.

Now in one sense, I understand the idea of grading by ability. I have been tentatively pushing for Chatterboy’s school to think about ability grading as they go into Year 1, particularly for the top and bottom ends of the ability range (where I and the research think it makes most sense, providing the curriculum is also differentiated, as the range is greatest). However, I find it ironic that it is quite socially unacceptable to talk about ability grading at school this young (even after a year of teaching the kids and starting to understand their strengths and weaknesses), but that a soccer club can happily and without apparent opprobium choose the teams totally by grade and ignore the considerable pluses the children might get from playing with friends.

Learning to deal with people different from yourself is always quoted as a reason not to have ability grouping in a school setting. In a sport setting, which in theory is something you do for fun, that’s clearly not a consideration.

I really hope Chatterboy likes his soccer – it’s the favourite game to watch of both Mr Penguin and me (although I’ve never played it) but I wish it wasn’t getting so serious so young.

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Cycling to work

I cycled to work today, which is not that much of an achievement, given its 4.5 km, but I still feel proud. A few observations:

  • there are heaps more people cycling to work these days – I reckon twice as many as when I last cycled to work more than a year ago
  • it’s still really annoying that you have to climb three flights of stairs to get on to the Harbour Bridge
  • It’s quite ironic that the City of Sydney has cycle paths converging from all directions, but none at all in town, even though traffic moves not much faster than a bike through town
  • It’s amazing how much pedestrians rely on their hearing, rather than looking, when deciding to cross a road

But I proved to myself that I can do it, that every bit of the journey works, and I fully intend to do it once a week – at least until the end of daylight saving.

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A few months ago, in Melbourne, a pedestrian was killed by a cyclist while crossing the road. It was early on a Saturday morning, when the local cyclists were out on their morning ride.  A friend told me that the cyclists on this ride are notorious for not obeying the road rules;  they effectively think of it as their one time of the week when they are in charge of the roads. But I couldn’t find any newspaper coverage to confirm that that whats actually happened in this case.

I think this is deplorable. But the terrible thing about it, as an occasional cyclist, is the reputation it gives all cyclists. Unfairly, all cyclists are blamed any time a cyclist does something stupid like this. So whenever you see a cyclist breaking the rules, instead of thinking (if you would if was a car), “what an idiot”, most (many) people think, “bloody cyclists, they never obey the rules.”

So then motorists and pedestrians think that cyclists deserve what they get, the powers-that-be don’t take into account the needs of cyclists when they set roads up (because they don’t deserve it), cyclists decide that the only way that they can ride is to disobey the road rules, and the whole thing gets worse.

I’m a boringly law-abiding person. I even dismount when I’m crossing at traffic lights or on the pavement. But when I cycle through the streets of central Sydney, there’s at least two places that I regularly disobey the rules because it enables me to avoid scarily busy streets. So I’m caught in the vicious cycle too – it’s inescapable.


There was an interesting article in the New Yorker a week or two ago about cycling in New York – very similar issues there.

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Mountain Biking

Inspired after reading Elsewhere‘s frequent cycling posts, and Jennifer (ponderosa’s) memories of mountain biking, I went mountain biking for the second time in my life on Tuesday, the south of New Zealand. I’m mostly over the bruised shins, and aching muscles in most parts of my body, so I can say it was worth it.

Mountain bikingWe cycled around a small lake – about 15 kilometres or so, going maybe as high as 10 metres above lake level, on a walking trail that had clearly been built with bikes in mind also (the boardwalks all had ramps on them).

The alpine backdrop had snow on the peaks. The lake was still and clear, with little streams rushing into it every now and again. We didn’t see a car except ours all afternoon.

The ten of us had all been fit at least once in our lives, but most of us were reliving past glories as we drove to the starting point, and secretly wondering whether we were going to be the ones at the back of the pack that everyone else waited impatiently for.

I found myself watching the trail ahead, rather than taking in the glorious scenery most of the way around.

But the best part of the ride was the bananas at the end. It’s amazing how good a banana can taste when you’ve done some serious exercise.

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Bike Lanes

I went for a bike ride on the weekend – across the Sydney Harbour bridge. The harbour bridge bike lane Harbour Bridge bike pathis the only way for a bicycle to cross Sydney Harbour Bridge without dismounting or cycling in 80 km/hr traffic until you get as far west as Concord Road    (20 km west of where I live, roughly). The Gladesville Bridge pedestrian lane is too narrow to ride a bike across unless you have better bike skills than I do.

There are 12 lanes of traffic crossing the harbour at that point – eight on the bridge and four in the tunnel.

But the bike path has three flights of stairs. Not only that, but to save us from terrorists, the path has recently been narrowed by about half a metre to create a security fence, and narrowed further by another metre or so to create a little booth for security guards who walk solemnly up and down the bike path. At that point, there is a sign, asking for you to go no faster than 5 kilometres an hour – which is necessary, because I don’t know how easily I could create enough space at that point for a bike coming the other way.

I imagine that if you did a fully calculated cost benefit analysis (risk of injury from terrorism vs risk of accident from head on cyclist collision, and then throw in the extra obesity from discouraging cycling) you would fairly quickly realise that this was a dumb idea. Unfortunately, I doubt if anyone even thought about it.

On the plus side, at least the security guards mean that you don’t get bridal parties having their pictures taken on the “no pedestrians” cycle lane – which was a regular feature of my Saturday afternoon bike rides a few years ago – nothing beats being glared at by a bridesmaid as you try and fail to sneak past her and her friend sipping champagne without having to dismount.

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I’ve been reflecting, during the World Cup, at how good we Australians are at watching sport in the middle of the night. But it’s part of being a sports fan, here. We’ve grown up watching pretty much any world class sport in the middle of the night. Think Ashes tests, Wimbledon, US & French Open tennis, Olympics, FA Cup finals, various Golf tournaments etc. etc. And of course the World Cup of Football.

When I lived in London, I suddenly realised that the rest of the world doesn’t really do that. Although every now and again there is something on the other side of the world, it’s not a standard part of being a sporting fan. A combination of a lot of Australians being fanatical enough about sport to actually watch something in the middle of the night, and that there is very little world sport actually happening in our own time zone.

Just that, by itself, probably gives the average Australian a much better appreciation of the size of the world than people in most other countries. We’re not necessarily any more cosmopolitan, but we know from an early age, that exciting things happen in other parts of the world. ____________________________________________

For myself, I have never gone without sleep to watch golf (or even watched it voluntarily), but I have gone without sleep to watch everything else on my list above. And I’m not that much of a sports fan, really.

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I loved reading Fever Pitch, (one man’s story of the highs and lows of being an obsessive Arsenal fan) when I first found it, but I never thought it would apply to me.

But watching the World Cup last night with Australia spending most of the match futilely trying to match Japan’s controversial goal before coming good in the last 10 minutes with 3 glorious goals, I was reminded, unexpectedly of Nick Hornby’s description of how, when you’re a fan, you spend most of the time hating your team for their ineptitude. Every time Australia wasted time passing the ball to each other outside the penalty box before being tackled by the Japanese defence, or alternatively took hopelessly inaccurate shots at goal, I was inwardly cursing their hopelessness.

I realised that the Australian men’s soccer team is one of my few experiences with real fandom. I’m not a serious fan in the Nick Hornby mold, but I have come to care. Probably that experience of watching Australia throw it all away in the last few minutes against Iran 8 years ago has made it that way, but who knows what captures the imagination? Suffice to say I’m now even more jealous of my brother’s tickets for the Croatia game next week. That one’s going to matter.

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Philip Gomes has a post in Lavartus Prodeo a couple of days ago about Michael Duffy’s dummy spit about Sydney cyclists. Read his post, and the comments – a depressingly familiar tale of bike riders being blamed for riding in the only ways that are left to them by the way the road system has been set up.

I had a similar experience when talking to a local councillor of my acquaintaince about why the cycle pathways were so bad. He explained that because no-one uses them, he doesn’t feel he can spend rate-payers money on a luxury item for the few. The trouble is it’s a vicious circle. If no-one uses the bike paths (because they don’t go anywhere useful, or occasionally have a tree in the middle of them that you are supposed to walk around, or most stupidly on the Harbour Bridge, three flights of stairs) then cyclists are blamed for them not being used, and no more are built. It’s like public transport only worse.

And then the cyclists go on the footpaths, because the roads are unsafe, and everyone complains about the anarchic cyclists.

Sydney is not as well built for cycling as Melbourne – it’s not as flat, and our streets are narrower. But there is scope for good cycling paths, as you realise when you occasionally find one (my favourite is from Darling Harbour to Leichhardt, which required very little actual infrastructure, just some imagination about which roads to put it on) and realise it’s possible!

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The world gymnastics championships are on this week in Melbourne. I did gymnastics all through high school, and I have really mixed feelings about the sport.

I was OK at it, not elite, but moderately serious (six hours of training a week), and for me it was a great sport. The training wasn’t that serious, and was with a group of girls that I got on with really well. There’s a lot of sitting around waiting for your turn when your doing gymnastics training, so it’s quite fun. Although we did talk about our weight from time to time, no more than any other group of teenage girls I was in at the time. And I was tall in gymnastics (I’m 162 cm), which is an experience I always enjoy, as it happens so rarely.

But I’ve also read Little Girls in Pretty Boxes, which is a pretty damning indictment of the sport at the elite level. I judged national championships in Australia for a while, and got to see some of the anorexia promoting behavior, and the clear way in which major changes were made to body chemistry in the name of sport. I saw many 18, 19 even 20 something year old retirees from the sport suddenly go through puberty. As a judge, I saw many elite gymnasts judged on their body type, not their performance – even a muscular body type could be implicitly punished as not giving a clear line in the dance elements.

To some extent, most elite sports involve a degree of self sacrifice that seems ridiculous to someone who isn’t as driven as the participants. Most elite women’s sports have terrible records with eating disorders compared with the general population. But the difference with gymnastics is that it takes place so young.

I don’t have daughters (and I won’t), but if I did, I wouldn’t let them start gymnastics if I thought they were in danger of being any good at it.

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I went to the soccer last night. It was fantastic. I am so glad I was there. I made a vow after the Sydney Olympics that I would go to world class sport if it was ever in Sydney. Almost immediately, I got pregnant, and changed focus. But it’s reminded me why it was worth while. I think being a woman I was more outnumbered than I would have been supporting Uraguay (and that’s saying something!), but I loved every minute of it.

The experience of having a stadium of 80,000 people singing their national anthem with their hearts on their sleeves.

The experience of being one of a crowd that was invested in every half chance, that rose as one when a goal got close, that turned to the stranger next to them when we scored the goal that gave us hope, and started chanting and singing whenever our team looked like flagging.

It was one of those games that in 10 years time, 800,000 people will be earnestly telling their friends they were there. I was lucky enough to be one of the people in the crowd when Cathy Freeman won her gold medal. This was just as good.

Last time Australia made the World Cup football final was 1974. Since then, we’ve had heart break after heart break, the worst in my personal memory being 1997 against Iran, where we looked a shoo-in at two goals up with half a match to go, and then Iran scored two goals against us to win on the away goal rule.

Now we’re there again!

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