Sorry Australia, you're no longer the great sporting nation you once were

Sydney, the nation's capital of housing unaffordability, recently became the site of a heated debate about the merits of spending billions of taxpayer dollars on new sporting stadiums. The arguments against focused on how the money should be spent on things like hospitals for sick babies or improving Sydney's public transport system so it ranks ahead of the East African nation of Eritrea. It was a jarring response to what would normally be a welcomed announcement by a sports mad public.

Never before have Australian citizens, on a scale such as this, ranked non-essential things like health, education and infrastructure ahead of sport.

It's a significant change we must take note of. In 1962, Sports Illustrated named Australia the most sports-obsessed country in the world. It was for good reason too. Australians at the time were dominating all kinds of sports and the recent held 1956 Melbourne Olympics had proven that no other country could play and organise sport quite like Australia. It would take until 2000 for another Olympic Games to be run that wasn't a complete, unmitigated disaster. Yes, I'm looking at you Atlanta.

Identity politics

Sport has always been the closest thing Australia has to a culture. This was hardly surprising, firstly, because nature abhors a vacuum, so something needed to fill the gaping hole in Australia's soul and secondly, because it was the first thing we were truly good at on a global stage.

Beating the English in a Test match for the first time was a huge thing for a team from the Australian colonies. The motherland had been bested and we started to think that perhaps we weren't just a giant prison with some gold. Later on, we found out that beating the English at cricket isn't that hard but at the time it had a huge impact. In fact, you could argue it was the single biggest factor in Australia embracing federation. 

Sport has united us across generations. Who can ever forget when Australia II crossed the line in 1983, to end the longest winning streak in sporting history and take home the America's Cup? Or when Cathy Freeman won old in the women's 400m at the Sydney Olympics, uniting the country and ending racism forever?

Why, all of us remember to this day, where we were when AFL star Brendon Fevola won I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here!, arguably the defining moment of our nation. Even the greatest ever Australian comes from the world of sport, Phar Lap, who achieved the honour despite being from New Zealand and being a horse.

The best of the best

Winning in sport is essential to our national sense of self, as important as wine is to the French, the sea is to the British and having access to high powered guns is to the Americans. Australia has dominated in so many codes. Tennis, cricket, union, beach volleyball, swimming, athletics, that game with a Frisbee that the guy in finance plays ever Wednesday night, boxing, sailing, netball, even that sport Steven Bradbury won gold in by heroically not falling over.

Currently, our men and women's teams are the best in the World in both League and that international behemoth, Australian Rules. In recent years, Australians have even discovered that women play sport too. But to limit sporting success to just the real world, would undersell us too. Australia are the current World Champions of Quidditch, the sport from the Harry Potter novels. In 2016, our national side, the Dropbears, won the Quidditch World Cup, beating the USA, who had never previously been defeated. It was a moment on par with the 1983 America's Cup and showed that we even dominate imaginary sports.


Perhaps most remarkably, all this has been achieved without the huge dollars of the United States, the much larger population of the United Kingdom or the rampant doping programs that occur in every other country except Australia, which is completely clean.

Winner winner, chicken dinner

Yet we are now at a crossroads. Australia is the fifth most obese nation in the world, mainly due to our sporting competitions becoming a propaganda platform for fried chicken. The biggest threat to our position at the top of the sporting pecking order are Netflix and UberEats.

And now, we have alleged Australia citizens not wanting to spend billions of dollars on sporting stadiums just because they already have stadiums and Sydney doesn't currently function as a city. Is this who we've become? Are we happy to slide down the ladder of sporting success to become an international punchline like the English?

The question isn't should we build these stadiums, it's are we building enough? Perth and Adelaide have just spent billions on stadiums and their economies are going just fine.

What are thinking?

We need to face up to reality. We are a sporting nation. Science, the arts, working trains, seeing a doctor when you need to, these are all nice things to have sure, but they're hardly essential.

For example, apart from inventing the bionic ear, Wi-Fi, the black box flight recorder, penicillin and the inflatable wine cask, what has Australian science ever done for us?

The story of Australia is one of continued sporting success punctuated by regular scandals, involving excessive alcohol consumption and an alarming amount of public urination. Let's not throw away who we really are.

See O'Reily at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, March 29-April 22.