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If Australia put as much effort into business as we do into sport the Aussie dollar would be closer to US70c right now. But don’t expect media moguls who profit so much from sport to give the suggestion we cut down out sport diet much coverage.

But what about all these people who came out are attacked him for it.

The most hypocritical attack came from that Toorak millionaire Eddie McGuire in his self-promotion page in Saturday’s Herald Sun.

You should read it in full to grasp the full hypocrisy of the situation:

Bank bashing millionaire Packer employee says economists have done nothing

By Eddie McGuire

“I’ll put it down to the pressure of the week, but surely ANZ Bank chief economist Saul Eslake was pulling out leg when he claimed at the Melbourne Media Club that our economic woes could be blamed on our national obsession with sport.

Mr Eslake claimed out love of sport may also have helped drive down the value of the Australian dollar. He was reported in yesterday’s Herald Sun as saying “over the past 12 months international observers of Australia will have seen a country is obsessed by sport and almost completely indifferent to success in any other field. Including, in particular, success in business and economic endeavours.”

May I point out that the world’s biggest economy, the United States, is also filled with sports-mad people and Europe, too, has a certain love affair with soccer, cycling, athletics and so on.

Mr Eslake may be right that our focus is disproportionate in eulogising sporting moments and greats of the games at the expense of the business community – but who cares.

A possible reason more and more Australians are gravitating to sporting events is that it takes them out of the constant struggle of their daily lives. Sport provides a sense of community involvement that once existed in the workplace.

Maybe if the banks stopped closing services and slugging ordinary Australians with fees, charges and interest rate rises dicated by economists rather than profitability there would be a few more accolades for the bean counters of this world.

Surely Mr Eslake doesn’t expect three cheers when banks announce record profits and mass sackings in the same breath. Now the economy is turning pear shape the workers know exactly what is coming.

So maybe the ordinary Australian enjoys going to the footy to watch Nathan Buckley, James Hird, Wayne Carey and others because at least you know they are having a real go for you.

Maybe Cathy Freeman lifts the spirit of ordinary Australians just a little bit more than an announcement that another chief executive has awarded himself a massive pay rise for achieving sustained profit in a growing economy because he was able to downsize his workforce.

Now that it’s beginning to rain on this parade maybe we should look at retrospective bonus schemes and pull back some of those options. That would make them very popular with the ordinary Australian.

Mr Eslake also accused politicians and “ordinary people” of blaming their problems on others. You said it, Saul. So rather than blame what in many ways is our shining example of when we are a “can do” country, embrace it.

Use the sporting world’s example. Recognise excellence and hard work, create and foster a community and team spirit. Don’t accept excuses in the line of battle and get out there and win.

The day an Aussie economist says interest rates have gone up or down because of their ability rather than the cop-out “affect of the American markets” will be the day they rate a headline bigger than an Ansett Cup first round match in March.

Sport is one of Australia’s growth industries and greatest international success stories. It is one of the few areas that other countries try to copy.

Sport has sustained Australians through the bad times of recession and depression more than anything economists have been able to do.”

ends

Then there was this contribution from another sports mad journalist in Matt Price writing in the Weekend Australian.

“Yet if the political cant was depressing, the dressing down from one of Australia’s most acclaimed economists was downright rude. ANZ chief economist Saul Eslake partly blamed the dollar’s slump on our preoccupation with sport, claiming foreigners see “a country that is obsessed with sport and almost completely indifferent to success in any other fieldincluding business and economic endeavours.”

Eslake is absolutely right

It is not before time that one of our leading economic commentators put his finger on one of our biggest problems. However, the sports obsession should be extended to “leisure obsession” because we are also the biggest travellers in the world, the biggest gamblers and have the most public holidays of any country.

And it is not just a community obsession. Government and business get sucked in by it as well. We’ve just spent about $1 billion of the nation’s capital building brand new sporting stadiums in Melbourne and Sydney that are now both close to going bust. And the private owners of Stadium Australia had the temerity to ask Bob Carr’s government for a $20 million bailout which was quite rightly rejected.

The fact that private investors were talked into squandering all that money at Docklands and Stadium Australia says a lot about the sports-obsession of the Australian business and investment community also.

But it is not only the private sector that loses hundreds of millions investing in sporting infrastructure, governments are obsessed with it as well. Remember Sports Rorts, the scandal that brought Ros Kelly down. That was a Labor Party slush fund pumping tens of millions into sporting infrastructure in marginal seats.

And then the Federal government does its best East German impersonation and spends $140 million training elite athletes for the Olympics. When we finish third on the medal tally, the PM comes out and says he’s going to increase spending on elite sport even though it is already the highest in the world and the Australian Olympic Committee have pocketed $100 million themselves from the Olympic revenues.

Meanwhile, the taxpayers of NSW have lost $2 billion on the Olympics even after 30,000 more poker machines are introduced and taxes jacked up to 10 per cent above the national average. Investment in schools and hospitals falls away and the government can no longer afford to fund essential road infrastructure so Sydney becomes the tollroad capital of the world.

The nation stopped working for two weeks during the Olympics and about 250,000 Australians fled the country. The Olympics are then cited by dozens of public companies as being a key reason for reduced December half profits and the nation posts its first negative quarter of growth in 10 years.

Shouldn’t we at least be having a debate about whether the Olympics was really worth the trouble. And shouldn’t we have a broader debate about our sporting obsession.

Don’t expect this to happen any time soon because all political parties are desperately trying to sign up sports stars to run for Parliament.

The great irony in all of this is that Australia’s corporate sector has performed so badly that most of our Aussie sports stars are sponsored by foreign companies because we have created stuff all branded goods operations owned by Australians. Ever wandered why Mark Taylor reduces himself to promoting Fujitsu air conditioners?

The recent formula one Grand Prix is another case in point. Victorian taxpayers have kicked in more than any race host in the world. At last count we’ve sunk about $130 million into the race and associated infrastructure and no-one seems to care that it loses about $10 million a year whilst we taxpayers send $18 million a year to Bernie Ecclestone’s tax haven.

If an equivalent scandal was happening in politics or business, the nation would be up in arms, but because it is sport, and Eddie McGuire hosts the broadcast on the Packer network, it is okay.

It is fitting that a sports-mad Australian in Kerry Packer has become our richest man in large part through the broadcast of sporting events to millions of Australians that he has bought up for a fraction of their cost.

Now that Packer, Murdoch and Telstra have committed $500 million for the AFL rights over the next five years, don’t expect any media outlets they own to question the merit of our obsession with footy and other sports they own such as Rugby League and cricket.

With Eddie being a Murdoch columnist, Packer’s planned footy anchor, an investor in sports internet companies and an investor in the Labor-sanctioned footy gambling outfit, don’t expect any independent analysis from him about our dangerous sports obsession.

And speaking of gambling, it is amusing to remember that the only lobby group that got a tax cut out of Kennett in the first three years was the gambling industry. That was because they are an incredibly powerful lobby and one of the biggest employers in regional and rural Victoria. But does this mean you should set up a gambling system that pumps $200 million of losses into the racing industry. The racing industry gets more government support than any other and what sort of message does that send to the rest of the world? Think about it for a moment. What do horses running around a track and people losing their hard-earned punting on it do for the Aussie dollar. And is being a strapper or a grass mower really such a fulfilling job?

It is Crikey’s longheld view that if gambling was wound back and Australia stopped being the most most leisure-focused nation on earth, then maybe more Australians would channel their time and money into productive enterprises that actually create some value and warrant a higher rating from the rest of the world when they buy and sell our dollar.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-In-Chief of Crikey

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