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Joy of sport lets the claustophobic real world spin without us for a bit

Joy of sport lets the claustophobic real world spin without us for a bit


Up, up, away — Western Bulldogs youngster Cody Weightman has done more than have a blinder on debut. He’s reminded us of why we have fallen in love with sport in the first place. 

Why we have first played it like there’s nothing more important nor entertaining on this Earth. Why we have first watched it as fervently as the adults in the other room have watched their Agatha Christies. Why we have first written about it until our hand has cramped and the ink has run dry. It’s been for the glee. For the bursts of euphoria. The harmless drama. For the contagious explosions of joy.

Up, up, away. Weightman has taken us with him. He’s not alone. Izak Rankine? What a joy. Kalyn Ponga? What a joy. Bradman Best? My auto spell has just changed his name to Bradman Beast, perhaps warranted. What a joy. Billy Walters? His father’s commentary of his crackerjack performance for Wests Tigers has been a joy.

Tom “The Glove” Lynch and Charlie Cameron ain’t no teenagers, but they’re no old coots, either. They’re a joy. Youthful effervescence plays a part with all these young dudes but even good old Cam Smith looks relaxed enough to be on holidays at Noosa. Which, of course, he sort of is, surviving the horrors of an enforced stay at a swish, sun-soaked Queensland resort, room service and swimming pools on offer, threatening to play next week in a Hawaiian shirt and Okanui board shorts. Ditto from Eddie Betts on the Gold Coast.

Up, up, away. Weightman’s Western Bulldogs are playing Essendon at Metricon Stadium. His first game out of the Dandenong Stingrays. No touches yet. He jumps above teammate Lachie Young and Bombers defender Michael Hurley, the ball finds his arms, he drags it in, he hangs onto it, he roars and grins like he’s caught a tennis ball while diving into a swimming pool at his mate’s place on Boxing Day.

And then he’s tried the daftest thing, he’s tried a banana kick from what seems an impossible angle, 40m out, but nothing’s impossible when your eyes are this wide and your heart is beating so fast it may run away.

Boot goes to ball. Ball is kicked with pinpoint accuracy and loop. Goal. It’s been so good and unlikely and enlivening that even the big sticks are having a giggle. Weightman runs to the adults in the room, his teammates, his long blonde hair flapping, his pearly whites out and about, the best first touches in AFL history since Rankine, whose grab, turn and kick less than a week before.

It’s heady stuff from a helluva young generation coming through. Rankine’s debut is regarded as the best of the two; I’m not sure about that. His summation: “I had an absolute blast out there. I loved it. I’m stoked I could have a run around.”

When COVID-19 stopped world sport in its track, the simple act of having a run around was stripped from you, me, them, everybody. Now sport is back on — we may as well move the Tokyo Olympics, the Melbourne Cup, the NBA, the Super Bowl and every Australian grand final to Queensland — it’s the joy that is standing out more than ever.

The nightly news is grim. Sport has always been a way for us to let the real world spin without us for a while. Now, more than ever, we crave entertainment, escapism, something to take us up, up and away. The real world has a virus; sport is a way of hitting refresh.

The teams that are joyless are also the teams that are winless. Perhaps they are winless because behind the-scenes, they have already been joyless?

This claustrophobic new world amplifies base characteristics in us all. The most carefree individuals are more carefree than ever. The most tentative and worrisome individuals are more tentative and worrisome than ever, shrieking in terror if someone sneezes at the supermarket. Strong clubs and teams are coming good under the duress and confined spaces; splinters in the lesser clubs are being exposed. Downbeat clubs are mired in gloom. Commentating on the Brisbane Broncos during their 48-0 humiliation to Wests Tigers, during which Anthony Seibold has looked beyond miserable, Andrew Johns has called them “a sad group.”

At halftime of South Sydney’s loss to Newcastle, Wayne Bennett has told his players to “enjoy the challenge” of a comeback from 0-14. Playing with more relish, they have nearly pulled it off, pipped 18-20. Different attitudes in each half: dogged but then more daring. More stoked to have a run around.

Ponga? A joy. Grinning like a goofball when something comes off. Scores a try, puckers up and kisses Mitchell Pearce like they’re on a first date. Red-and-blue headgear will be selling like hot cakes among Newcastle juniors.

The winter codes are in the entertainment business. The entertainment business has never been more important. We want flair. We want daredevils and risk-takers. We want the real world world to spin without us for as long as possible. Gary Ablett Jr has not been so fortunate. He’s returned to Victoria because of real-world complications. Here’s to Ablett, his wife and their son. Here’s hoping they get up, up and away from the children’s hospital. Here’s hoping they have a win.

Source: The Australian


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