Sportergate: Bridget bites the bullet

Some time ago, I asked the question about whether sports and politics mix?

I wrote about some of the times in history where sports people used their status to bring attention to topical political matters.

In 1968, Peter Norman supported Tommie Smith and John Carlos in a bid to bring attention to black rights at the Olympics.

Several Wallaby players withdrew from a tour by the South African Springboks due the discriminatory apartheid system in South Africa.

Many people believe the subsequent exclusion of South African teams from international sport helped end apartheid in South Africa.

So we know that sportspeople can mix with politics, but can politicians mix with sport?

And I’m not referring to John Howard’s ludicrous attempt to bowl a cricket ball.

Not if the recent Sports Rorts affair is anything to go by.

Before I start, I want to give a big shout out to the journalist who came up with the term Sports Rorts.

It rhymes nicely and stays clear of the soft option of just adding “Gate” — a reference to Watergate.

Although, “sportergate” would have been a great name. But I digress.

morrison and mckenzie
Who’s laughing now . . . Scott Morrison and Bridget McKenzie.

Early last year, the Government announced a $100 million sports grant program designed to assist grass roots and encourage participation from the junior level up.

Sounds like a wonderful idea.

A scheme based purely on merit, with no political involvement.

Now, we all know when politicians get involved in anything, things don’t always go smoothly.

Sometimes decisions will be made that prefer groups in the electorates of preferred politicians.

This has happened for centuries with hospitals, schools, police stations etc.

So what makes this Sports Rorts worse than other pork barrelling?

Well, for starters, some constitutional experts doubt whether former Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie had the constitutional authority to make these grants.

According to the constitution, they say, sport is the realm of the State and these decisions cannot be made by the Commonwealth.

It is alleged that McKenzie over ruled many recommendations made by Sports Australia.

There are also suggestions that some groups received grants despite not getting their applications in until after the closing date.

Then there is the allegation that many groups were awarded despite not reaching the score recommended by Sports Australia.

It’s also been suggested that at least one sporting group, in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s own electorate, announced the grant on Facebook BEFORE the grant had been formally announced.

It’s all history now, because McKenzie, who had moved on from Sport to the Agriculture portfolio, pulled the plug on Sunday, resigning as Minister and Deputy leader of the National Party.

But when all is said and done, as long as $100 million of taxpayer’s money found its way into the bank accounts of local grass roots sporting organisations — what’s the big deal?

As Scott Morrison himself said, for every grant made, that’s a sporting club that doesn’t have to spend Saturday morning selling sausage sangas at Bunnings.

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I’ve got a couple of issues with that.

Firstly, I have spent many a Saturday morning at Bunnings.

It’s almost my weekend holiday home, and I like nothing more than supporting local groups, sporting or otherwise, by purchasing a cold drink and a sanga (with or without onions).

It’s great to see young and the not so young working to help their group.

It would almost be UnAustralian not to buy a sausage sanga at Bunnings.

But, secondly, if you look at the list of sporting groups that were awarded grants under this genius scheme, as well as cricket, footy and netball club — there are shooting clubs, yacht clubs and golf clubs, including the Royal Adelaide Golf Club.

Ask yourself when was the last time you saw yachties manning the barbecue at Bunnings?

How many times has Royal Adelaide Golf Club applied to their local Bunnings to operate the sausage sizzle?

I’ve got no problem with shooting clubs.

I was a member of various pistol clubs for nearly 20 years.

But it does sound fishy when one gun club put in an application for a grant, gave free membership to Senator McKenzie, then surprise, surprise — got their grant.

And that folks is what she got into trouble for.

I always believed heads would roll over this scandal and I now have an answer to my question.

While sportsmen are able to mix sport with politics, politicians seem completely incapable of mixing politics with sport.

And remember, there’s no such thing as too much sport!

briget mckenzie
Pull . . . Bridget McKenzie bites the bullet.

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Bennie

Brett Bennie is a sport tragic. He'll travel many hours just to see his favourite football team play - come rain, hail or shine. Brett has played most sports, has watched those he hasn't played and has an opinion on all of them. He's the guy you want on your trivia team when it comes to the sport questions. He's the guy who's never wrong.
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