Sporlitics

This article first appeared in Farrago (Issue 6, 2012). Every issue, my column “Life S’port” will tackle a different sporting concept.

My artistic impression of Parliament (click to enlarge).

For 16 days on end, Channel Nine opened my eyes to a banquet of sports I never thought existed.

Take gymnastics, for example. Did you know that when people say “I’m going to the gym”, they don’t necessarily wish to pump iron? Indeed, there are some gyms without a single bench press or dumbbell. All they have are mats, trampolines, and pommel horses. Talk about parallel universes.

Then there’s Equestrian Dressage. I knew horses could jump over miscellaneous hurdles, but who would’ve thought they could prance diagonally, moonwalk, and do the robot as well?

The quirkiest code I came across, however, did not appear on commercial television but on our national broadcaster. It was a funny old spectator sport with a lot of shouting, a phenomenal level of sedentary activity, and an unnecessary amount of referee interference. While it was difficult to keep track of the score line, the raw antagonism between the two sides kept me engaged.

Incumbent team captain Julia Gillard (AAP, Koch)

I checked the Green Guide. They called it “Parliament”.

Much like a Sheffield Shield match, Parliament can last for four consecutive days. It runs simultaneously with a reserves competition – otherwise known as the Senate – and comes in a number of variations. Legislature sessions are the equivalent of gruelling Test matches, while Question Time is the highlights-heavy Twenty20 package.

While the match-ups on paper might suggest this is a two-team contest, one shouldn’t underestimate the minnows. The smaller teams – like isolated nation-states in the Pacific – don’t take home many prizes. Yet the pressure they put on the Labor and Coalition powerhouses is critical to every match result.

During a typical head-to-head battle, both major teams try to gain the upper hand by asserting that they are right. And when they are not taking pot shots at one another, they condemn the solo Green for being left. The rule of the game is simple: turn up in greater numbers than your adversary and victory is yours.

The two superpowers of Australian Parliament are renowned for their solid lines of defence. For the government, this involves backline benchmen setting up easy plays to the club leadership group: “Mr Minister, why is it that our policy on the economy is so sustainable and destined for success?”

For the opposition, dog tactics are preferred; amid the unsportsmanlike nudges and grumbles are sledges, targeted at the fashion tastes of their foes.

Parliament is a contest of one-eyed allegiances if there ever was one. In AFL, the only difference between a push-in-the-back and a holding-the-ball decision are the eyes that see it. In the House of Representatives, the line is just as fine; one woman’s ‘Clean Energy Bill’ is another man’s ‘carbon tax’.

Like lower-grade cricket matches, Parliament is adjudicated by a responsible – yet relatively negligible – member of one of the teams. This stand-in referee doesn’t necessarily have any more power than their compatriots; if anything, their role as mediator can put their own side at a disadvantage. Nevertheless, their capacity to censor rule breakers and send players into the sin bin reminds everybody of their inherited authority.

When it comes to parliamentary bickering, Australia are mere novices. We can only dream of reaching the gold-medal standards of nations such as Taiwan, Italy, and Ukraine. In these nations the brawls take centre stage and are only seldom put on hold for the teams to formulate legislation.

The Ides of March

Of course nothing quite comes close to the brutality of 15 March, 44BC. On this historic day, Julius “Ju-liar” Caesar’s speech in front of the Senate was interrupted by a dagger or 23. Not one, by 60 assassins joined in on the fun and games that day, symbolising teamwork at its finest. Those liberators sure made Australia’s pollies look pretty soft.

Drawing comparisons between Parliament and sport is more than just cheeky rhetoric. I remind you to cast your eyes back to the May episode of Thomsonsgate, when newly Independent minister Craig Thomson cast a sneaky vote with the Coalition. Thomson executed a tactical manoeuvre involving a subtle shift in direction, drifting onto the opposition bench just in time for the power play.

Outraged at their unintentional recruiting, co-captains Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne jumped from their seats before the siren sounded, thus nullifying Thomson’s ‘tainted’ vote. The high-profile pair’s attempts to run out of bounds were not dissimilar to the ‘barley’ rule from primary-school games of tiggy.

The wonderful thing about Parliament is that the power is ultimately in the spectator’s hands. Unlike other sports – where our cries from the outer are continuously ignored – we are the ones in control of list management.

Unfortunately we have no say over whether this eclectic competition remains a sport.

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