Sport and Diplomacy

Sport and Diplomacy

I’m watching the cricket on Saturday night, and it’s Australia playing South Africa at the Harare Sports Club. It’s put me in some kind of nostalgic mood; I know that both my parents watched people play there at some point, and I’ve heard the stories, but I’ve never been there myself, so the place is both foreign and familiar to me.

It’s also reminded me about all the other times that I’ve been to the cricket – or any sport, really – with my parents. When you were a kid, it seemed like it was such a big deal. I seem to remember days of meticulous planning going into one infamous trip to the ‘Gabba to watch the Windies predictably thrash Australia. I remember even more clearly the disappointment when my brother and older cousins got to go to the cricket – and I had to stay at home. As we got older, we went to the cricket more and more – living in the Eastern Suburbs has a lot of drawbacks, but access to the cricket ground is not one of them -and I noticed the two very different personalities that my parents had at the game.
With Mum, it was all about preparation. Sometimes, I felt like we were packing for a trip overseas, not just a couple of hours at the cricket. We would have chicken rolls and juice and snacks and chocolate and water bottles and god knows what else. Now, I look back on it as good sense – perhaps I’m at that age where I complain about the price of everything.
But my Dad was very different. Not one given to much discussion – at least, not before he’s had a couple of beers – and that’s not something that happened very often – most of what I share now I’ve had to work out so I could be completely off the mark – Dad wouldn’t actually tell us much about what he was thinking – there were more snippets of wisdom than actual conversations. But he had a business like attitude to the whole thing. The whole idea was to get in and not get distracted. No preparation necessary. No chicken rolls or juice boxes. We would blow past the record-sellers and the souvenir stalls. No need for them. The most we would get is a coke and a pie – if we were lucky, and the bombers were winning. If they weren’t winning, then probably not.
Dad would be a different person at the game. Something in him would come alive, and I, sitting next to him, half the athlete he was – and I always felt that was a source of again, never to be spoken of disappointment – could only watch as he seemed to understand the game at a deeper level. He brought that same concentration to other sports, even the ones that he knew less well. For whatever reason – and I like to blame the fact that we moved every couple of years, so I never got the chance to develop any one set of skills, rather than the more likely failing of ability on my behalf – I picked up Rugby League and Rugby Union more than Aussie Rules – although there were some great seasons at East for AFL, including one memorable one where I won a trophy named after a woman. And from Dad there was a grudging respect and hard-won knowledge about these games, too.
Even later, sporting grounds became the only place we could talk. Sport was one of those diplomatic safe houses in the battleground that every family goes through. Despite everything, we could go to the AFL together, and have a chat about the game. It didn’t solve anything, but it kept the doors open at least.