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Anna Flanagan is named as a reserve for the Hockeyroos despite being caught drunk driving. Photo: Graham TidyWith the Olympic Games around the corner, the question as to what degree of on-field, social, or even legal misadventure should disqualify a sports performer from being selected has lately been prominent. Such issues, of course, have long been around, but it does seem athletes are under the microscope, and are judged, like never before.

Insofar as breaches away from the field of play are concerned, it’s imaginable that in times past a less pervasive media delivered a lower exposure level. As for events relating directly to sporting conduct, what appears to have changed is that public opinion – once inclined to almost unconditionally support athletes – is no longer guaranteed to do so. Perhaps today’s administrators are influenced by this.

In times past, various celebrated Australian sports people tangled with officialdom and paid for their sins. Olympian Dawn Fraser and cricket star Keith Miller are a couple of notable examples. As long as the stars performed well, though, the public was inclined to back the athlete. Administrators could, and did, please themselves.

As for sports people being banned from selection for off-field breaches, a salutary story from the faraway world of heavyweight boxing more than half-a-century ago is told in the book King of the World, by David Remnick. In his sweeping account of the beginnings of what became the Muhammad Ali era, Pulitzer Prize winner Remnick outlined the lead-up to Sonny Liston’s first fight with Floyd Patterson in 1962.

Liston was a frightening man with a shady past and had spent time in prison. When Patterson told President John F. Kennedy, who had invited the much-admired champion to the White House in late 1961, that he intended to give Liston a shot at his title, the President’s response was a firm: “You’ve got to beat this guy.”

Liston was an undesirable. Seen as a bad man. So much so that there was debate as to whether the contest with Patterson should be allowed to proceed. An argument was mounted that the challenger wasn’t a fit person to fight for the world crown. Remnick told of how, within that debate, it was an unlikely individual who most effectively cut through the moralising.

The 12th (and current) Marquess of Queensberry, Sir David Harrington Angus Douglas, was a descendant of the rule-maker of boxing and his words warrant consideration today. He said: “I would have rather thought it wasn’t all that relevant whether or not Liston was a good character.”

Distilling the matter to its fundamentals, the Marquess added: “If he’s not in prison at the moment, he must currently be legally straight. If he’s a good boxer, he must be entitled to a fight with Patterson.” Simple as that.

So is there a difference between a world title aspirant in the dark world of boxing and those who aspire to national selection at an event such as the Olympic Games?

Superficially there is, because boxing, especially in those times, could scarcely claim to be a sport with a strong moral code.

Nevertheless, the deeds of its practitioners loomed high in the American consciousness to the extent that the aforementioned debate occurred. And, lest it be argued professional boxing didn’t involve national representation, it clearly did. Joe Louis’ win over the German, Max Schmeling, in 1938 was every bit about America, on behalf of the free world, scoring a victory over Hitler. Indeed, Muhammad Ali was soon to break the matter of representation down to one of race and religion, rather than country, in a way that pervaded the psyche of global sport for years.

The danger with taking a position other than that advocated by the marquess is that it can soon lead administrators to wrestling. And tying themselves in knots. For the permutations and combinations of misdemeanour/athlete/popularity/chances of success and perhaps one or two other factors are endless. And they can cause apparent contradictions of position that can be hard to justify.

The cases, and respective fates, of three talented aspirants for Olympic representation in Rio who have run foul either of the law, or merely of public opinion, bear testament to this.

Tennis player Nick Kyrgios had his suitability as an Olympic ambassador questioned by the Australian Olympic Committee and ultimately declared himself unavailable. Then shooter Michael Diamond was ruled out by his sport after being charged with drink-driving and firearms offences.

Neither absence will cause too many tears as Kyrgios is unpopular with the sporting public in this country and Diamond, multi-Olympian and dual gold medallist though he may be, competes in a lesser-profile sport and is seen to have issues.

Plain sailing so far. But then up bobbed the case of hockey player Anna Flanagan, poster-girl for her sport. Last March in Perth, Flanagan returned a breathalyser reading well beyond the legal limit and subsequently failed to notify her administration of the offence.

So now what?

Well, Flanagan was ruled eligible by the Australian Olympic Committee to compete in Rio but, during the week, was not named in the 16-woman Games squad announced by Hockey Australia. This despite the fact that she is 24, was in the team that came fifth at the London Olympics, and the current team is short on experienced players.

Hockey Australia says it was a decision based on form and Flanagan agrees. Unlike Kyrgios and Diamond, though, she will go to Rio. She has been named as a reserve.

Now it’s possible every decision along the way in these cases has been made with utter objectivity and integrity. But it’s also possible, when the three outcomes are juxtaposed, that they could be viewed with a cynical eye.

Delineating between offences and athletes can be a fraught business. Marquess of Queensberry’s rules are not a bad option.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on 苏州美甲美睫培训学校.


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