I have mixed feelings about Rodger Shanahan's piece on the Ashes and the way Australia views its Old Enemy, England.
Maybe we do hate the England cricket team, but we seem to be disguising it pretty well. I haven't noticed any mass burnings of souvenir team shirts or mobs storming Cricket Australia HQ since we lost the current series. As Nick Bryant, one of the sharpest English observers of Australia around, pointed out back in 2009 when we last lost a series against England, Australians don't get that excited about the Poms anymore.
And if we do hate them, the reasons are changing. Of course we want to beat England, but these days its because we like winning and want to beat the best, not because we need to prove ourselves against the mother country. The cricket relationship reflects the broader relationship, which is between two modern sovereign countries that share a history but which carry few vestiges of the colonial past.
Rodger claims our good-natured hatred of the Poms is unique in sporting culture. I don't think so. In fact this attitude is pretty similar to the one Kiwi rugby fans have towards Australia. And although I'm out of my depth on the topic of ice hockey, my guess is that we could describe the US-Canada relationship in that sport in much the same way.
In all three cases, the smaller country wants victory more intently and passionately than the larger one. In all three, the sport in question is more important to the smaller nation than to the larger one, where it is a less popular pastime. And in all three, the 'hatred' is clean and good natured, with rival fans posing no threat to each other.
That last factor points out another commonality: in all three cases, the two countries have excellent bilateral relations. I doubt the good natured hatred Rodger talks about would be possible without it.
PS. Back in 1977, the philosopher David Stove expressed similar sentiments to Rodger in a short essay called Cricket Versus Republicanism. It's worth quoting:
...at cricket the Australian is a Pom-beating animal. The margin of superiority is slight, but it is consistent, and therefore calls for explanation. I have heard dozens of theories advanced to account for this. My own belief is that it is due to a difference in attitude towards the opponent: that whereas the Australians hate the Poms, the Poms only despise the Australians...
... There was, for example, a severe kind of poetry in what Greg Chappell said to Terry Jenner when the latter fell, bleeding from the head, hit by a short ball from Snow at the SCG a few years ago, and the ball careered away unregarded. Unregarded by everyone, that is, except the non-striker Chappell, whose only comment to Jenner was, "There was a single in it." Has not that the real Duke-of-Wellington touch?
Photo by Flickr user RNLJC&M.