EDITORIAL | Cancel culture has no place in sport

Editorial courtsey of the Australian.

The current brouhaha over what is acceptable sponsorship for sporting teams opens up a dangerous pathway for sport, individual athletes and the codes that struggle for financial support. By joining the rush to cancel culture that seeks to denigrate unfashionable products and expunge historic views that are clearly unacceptable in a modern context, sports stars risk exposing their own hypocrisy and naivety.

Cricket captain Pat Cummins effectively caught and bowled himself with his public objection to Cricket Australia’s association with fossil fuel company Alinta. As others have pointed out, Cummins has a privileged position in life, travelling first class in aeroplanes and driving a fuel-heavy Range Rover, but he draws the line at supporting a company that produces electricity both from renewables and fossil fuels. Does Cummins realise how much power it takes to floodlight a stadium?

Cricket Australia will have to navigate its relations between players and sponsors and is surely big enough to survive, given its ability to generate lucrative broadcast rights and attract other sponsors. Other sporting codes and individuals who sacrifice careers to dedicate their lives to sport are not so lucky. The attack on mining and agriculture magnate Gina Rinehart is particularly egregious given her dedication to lifting passionate sports people through actions that are generous but inconsequential for her in terms other than the support they offer. Netball Australia finds itself in a difficult position regarding player objections to Mrs Rinehart’s money, but the starting point must be to ensure that everybody knows what they are talking about. To sacrifice Mrs Rinehart because of comments made decades ago by her father, Lang Hancock, is a bridge too far. Mrs Rinehart’s contribution to sport deserves the highest credit. Swimming legend Dawn Fraser said Mrs Rinehart was one of the secret weapons behind Australia’s success at the Tokyo Games, where the country’s athletes won the most gold medals in history.

Mrs Rinehart contributes up to $10m annually to four Olympic sports: swimming, rowing, volleyball and artistic swimming. Much of the money gets paid to athletes directly so that instead of working odd jobs to pay rent and other living expenses, they concentrate on training and competing. In 2014, Mrs Rinehart was acknowledged with an Order of Merit from the Australian Olympic Organisation for her longstanding involvement with and support of swimming and volleyball. She is the largest single non-government contributor to the Olympic effort in Australia’s history.

Cancelling Mrs Rinehart’s contribution to sports funding would be a misguided and unnecessary thing to do. Attacking her in the way that has been done sends a troubling message to other potential sponsors, to the great detriment of sport. Mrs Rinehart’s support is a fine example of how patronage enables excellence. Anyone who thinks that government funding is a preferable source of untainted funds has not thought the issue through. Government money has to come from somewhere, and among the biggest contributors are royalties from iron ore and fossil fuels. Nor is government funding finite; and even in a sports-mad nation, the priorities must be finding the money for health, aged care, education and caring for the most vulnerable. Sports administrators have a responsibility to ensure that players have the freedom to concentrate on what they do best, which is compete on the field of play rather than dwell too long in the approval-seeking realm of online media.