Australia's Sporting Decline: An English Perspective

A Guest post from Marc Fearns, who appears courtesy of

For a country with such a small population, Australia has always punched above its weight in the sporting arena. You can be justly proud of your numerous sporting achievements, achievements that we Brits have historically only been able to regard with envy. In recent years, however, Australian sport seems to have been in decline. There have been poor results and poor performances. This seems to have been the cause of something of a national identity crisis, prompting you to do a lot of soul-searching.

Sometimes though, you can be too close to the situation to view it objectively. If you’re ten centimetres from a Van Gogh painting, a Where’s Wally drawing or a cinema screen they make no sense to you. You need to be further away to gain perspective. Who better then, to look into the cause of Australia’s sporting malaise than a man on the other side of the world? Well, other than a man in space, but spacemen have other things to occupy them, usually something to do with trajectory or re-entry or something.

We all know when Australia’s decline as a sporting nation began, it was the 2005 Ashes. Now that probably doesn’t come as a revelation to you. It’s pretty obvious to all of us, but there’s more.

I can pinpoint the exact moment of the 2005 Ashes that it all began to unravel for Australia. It was on day two of the first test. On that day Surrey and England batsman Graham Thorpe announced his retirement from international cricket.

Graham Thorpe was a terrific batsman who, for much of his career, can consider himself unlucky to have been born English and to have been stuck in some very poor England teams. His England career was marked by defeat after defeat inflicted by Australia. As time marched on, and he came closer to the end of his career, Thorpe put in some mighty performances for an improving England side, but the emergence of Kevin Pietersen meant that he lost his test place.

In 2005, having learned that he had not been picked for the first Ashes test, Graham Thorpe retired from international cricket. With Thorpe no longer representing them, the England team went on to record a hard-fought, and improbable, victory against an Australian team containing such greats as Gilchrist, Ponting, Warne, Lee and McGrath, and these guys (with the exception of McGrath and his unfortunate injury) were all playing at the top of their games. I know. I saw them.

So there’s a pattern here. When Graham Thorpe represented England, we lost, a lot, usually horribly. Not because he was a poor player, he was magnificent, but because he is a jinx.

In August 2005 Thorpe retired from the English domestic game and moved to Australia, where he coached for New South Wales. It was that moment that the curse of Thorpe was wholly transferred to Australia.

In 2006, Ian Thorpe – one of the greatest (of many) Australian sporting heroes – announced his premature retirement from swimming. Obviously, the introduction of a second Thorpe into the country had unsettled and affected him. The Thorpedo had been Grahampered.

Obviously, the 2006/2007 Ashes would seem to contradict my fundamental argument but fortunately, as an Englishman, I’m not aware of them.

Like the Ancient Mariner’s dead albatross Graham Thorpe continued to excerpt his malign influence upon Australian sport. In the 2007 Rugby World Cup, an Australian team that had performed solidly in the group stages were knocked out by an England team that had played woefully in the run-up to, and during the early stages of the tournament. There was no logical reason for this. It can only have been the Thorpe effect.

Look at Australian tennis pre and post-Thorpe. Before the blight of Thorpe you had Mark Philippoussis and Lleyton Hewitt – two absolutely first-rate exponents of men’s tennis. While Philippoussis is obviously an idiot and we can’t really blame Thorpe for his self-destruction, Hewitt was in excellent form. In 2005 he made the final of the Australian Open and the semi-finals of Wimbledon (getting knocked out by the then-invincible Roger Federer). In the same year Hewitt was named in Tennis Magazine’s all-time top 40 tennis players. In 2008, after three years of the Graham Thorpe hex, Hewitt didn’t even win a title – the first year in which he had failed to do so. Hewitt is still ranked number one in Australia, but this is thanks mostly to competition from Chris Guccione.

In 2008, with the abominable Thorpe now having developed a full-blown Australian accent, it was time for all-conquering sporting giants Australia to show their might in the Bejing Olympics. It didn’t go well. Australia was even beaten in the medal table by Great Britain, and that never happened when Thorpey lived here.

Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of the Olympic performance was in the pool. While Great Britain achieved its best medal haul for many years, Australia was poor. Australia! Poor at swimming! It must have been the malign influence of Thorpe, because there’s no logical reason that Australia should ever be anything other than the world’s number one swimming nation. Let’s consider it.

Australia has a climate that’s conducive to swimming. Australia has a vast quantity of swimming pools. Australia is an island, surrounded by the sea. These factors alone should ensure that Australia is great at swimming, but there’s more. Australia also has most of the world’s terrifying water-dwelling creatures; from tiny poisonous jellyfish that kill you, to gigantic poisonous jellyfish that kill you; from enormous evil-eyed, sharp-toothed fish that eat you, to enormous evil-eyed, sharp-toothed reptiles that eat you, Australia has them all. If Australians don’t learn to swim fast, they die. Australians should be unbeatable at swimming.

In the 2008 Olympics, the nation of Australia came second in the swimming…to Michael Phelps. An entire nation that should be, by all logic, the best in the world were beaten by one man. It could only have been the Graham Thorpe hoodoo.

In 2008, having wreaked havoc on Australian sport for three long years, Thorpe returned home to take up a coaching position with Surrey. Sadly for Australia, however, his accent was so strong that he seemed more Australian than British. In an interview previewing the 2009 Ashes series Graham Thorpe was asked if the England team were ready for Australia. “Aw look”, he replied, “our blokes have put in the half-yards, they’ll be full-on.” Australia didn’t stand a chance (and we had Ian Bell).

Since Thorpe moved to Australia and put the hex on you, Australian sport has declined so severely that Australia has now been beaten by Scotland at rugby, which is surely the ultimate sporting humiliation. Do you know why Scotland never play the Scotland ladies team? That’s right, it’s for the same reason that my school rugby team should never have played the girls team.

So there it is, Australia. You can look at coaching methods, player performance, sports funding, governing body efficacy, and you can analyze tables, statistics and multiple-plot waveform graph data until you’re blue in the face (or asleep at the desk). The fact is that since Graham Thorpe stopped representing England, British sport has been in the ascendant and since Graham Thorpe moved to Australia and started speaking with an Aussie accent, Australian sport has been in sharp decline. The reason for Australia’s sporting malaise is obvious. Graham Thorpe.


Jonathan said...

Very nice Marc. Where is Graham Thorpe right now though? said...

Would explain why Surrey are so rubbish at the minute and were relegated this season though. Also I believe Graham Thorpe was present at the St Lawrence Ground on the nights of the Kent floodlight fiascos. You've sold your theory to me, Marc.

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