Radio National's The Sports Factor

  With Amanda Smith

Sport's Sacred Sites


On the first anniversary of the Sydney Games, attempts are underway to re-ignite the spirit of Sydney's Olympic Park. RICHARD CASHMAN from the Olympic Studies Centre in Sydney considers whether the celebratory re-lighting of the Olympic cauldron, and the re-development of the site, can restore a symbolic significance to what has now become a forlorn and forgotten place.

Meanwhile, sociologist JOHN CARROLL discusses the re-development of the Melbourne Cricket Ground, including demolition of the Members' Pavilion, which he believes will diminish the MCG's place in the public imagination as a "sacred sporting site".

Plus the rise of professional league "beach sports". First it was beach volleyball. Now beach soccer, and other sandy versions of team sports are on the rise. What's the appeal?

Details or Transcript:


Amanda Smith: On The Sports Factor this week, we start by returning to what has so often been referred to as the greatest peace-time event of the modern era, on the eve of the first anniversary of the opening of the Sydney Olympic Games.

Commentator: Behind these vast grandstand walls of Stadium Australia. As the Olympic flame burns, and it will do until the Games close on the 1st October.

Commentator: The sky explodes here at Stadium Australia. The Olympic flame is lit.


Amanda Smith: There was a moment of joy and celebration. And for the following two weeks, Stadium Australia, and the rest of Sydneyís Olympic Park, was filled with crowds in their hundreds of thousands. But since the Games, the Olympic site has become a rather forlorn and empty place. This weekend though, an anniversary celebration is being held at Homebush Bay, which includes the re-lighting of the Olympic cauldron, tomorrow, at dusk. Richard Cashman, whoís the Director of the Olympic Studies Centre in Sydney, says this ĎIgniteí Festival is an attempt to instil some significance back into the Olympic site.

Richard Cashman: Iíd suggest thereís various factors. One is thereís an attempt to kind of re-ignite the Olympic spirit, that wonderful spirit that was here last year. Perhaps also on the personal side, thereís an attempt to ground the emotional feeling of last year, to give it some outlet. So thatís one kind of thing. Another area is, itís part of the longer-term development of Olympic Park, and I think itís an attempt to enhance public acceptance of Olympic Park.

Amanda Smith: Well how is the cauldron being lit, Richard, not with the sacred flame from Olympia surely?

Richard Cashman: No, with the secular touch of the Premier. The Premierís going to Ö Iím not sure if itís push a button, or a switch, but heís going to light it. So thereíll be no Cathy Freeman, no Olympic torch, no sacred fire. Itís kind of a secular lighting.

Amanda Smith: Well should it be re-lit? Will this diminish or enhance the significance of the site, the Olympic Park site, in the public imagination?

Richard Cashman: I think it should be lit. I donít have any problem with it being lit, and a number of other cauldrons have actually been lit. It will provide a symbolic focus for the park, and the park needs something, in fact it was a much-loved place last September, but it now itís a much-deserted place. The way I look upon it is the cauldron originally was a sacred object in it was lit with flame from Olympia. Itís now a secular relocation of that object. In a kind of way itís been de-consecrated and made into something different, but I think it will be a significant marker and they have also added the names of all the Olympic and Paralympic medallists at the bottom of the cauldron. So itís something people will be able to go and look at, and it will be lit for three weekends in two weeks, and I suspect theyíll light it again in the future.

Amanda Smith: Now why has the Sydney Olympic Park, so celebrated for those 15 days a year ago, become so quickly a seemingly forgotten place?

Richard Cashman: Well it was kind of inevitable in a way. Itís a huge area. It was wonderful for the Olympic Games, but I think the first problem is that they planned well to win the bid, they planned well for the Games, but there was not sufficient planning for after the Games. And itís a wonderful site, it will take 500,000 but unless you have a focus for people to go out there, thereís no point in them going out there. And in fact a lot of my students, the international ones, have been quite disappointed, because they go out to the Sydney Olympic Park, thereís not much to see, itís empty. So thereís a number of reasons. I think the focus of Sydney sport previously has been the Sydney Cricket Ground, Moore Park area, and in a way it may take them five, ten even fifteen years, to establish Homebush Bay, Sydney Olympic Park, as an alternative focus.

Amanda Smith: Well Stadium Australia, the big arena on the Olympic site, has attracted significant numbers of spectators to sporting events outside of the Olympic Games when theyíre staged there, international Rugby Union fixtures for example; thereís the National Rugby League Grand Final coming up and there are plans for a few AFL matches with the Sydney Swans to play there in the future. But the Stadium management hasnít been able to lure the big cricket matches away from the Sydney Cricket Ground, and there is something of a whiff, as far as I can tell, of the Ďwhite elephantí around Stadium Australia.

Richard Cashman: There is a definite whiff of the Ďwhite elephantí at this stage. I think the Stadium Australia people would say that when the stadium is reconfigured, and theyíre still in the process of altering the stadium, that theyíll be able to have a lot more events. But itís not just the events, in a way itís a very large site, and it needs sort of more humanity, more liveliness, so if someone goes to a football match at Stadium Australia thereís something outside, thereís a pub or thereís a restaurant or thereís some other things. And thereís people around on a regular basis. Thereís not that, so there is a bit of the whiff of the Ďwhite elephantí, and I think at the moment probably the Sydney sport public is a little bit disappointed.

Amanda Smith: Well in the redevelopment of the Olympic Park site, if itís greatly altered for commercial and residential purposes, as might happen, will it actually lose any significance it might have had to people, as a site that stands as both a tangible and a symbolic reminder of the 2000 Games?

Richard Cashman: It may well, and there is a master plan around of various tenders out. It would lead to significant commercial and residential development on the site. I think theyíve got no choice but to pursue that, to bring people out to the site. It may lose some of that symbolic significance, but maybe we have to go for a pragmatic midway solution where we continue some of the symbolism and certainly the cauldron will continue that, but perhaps the Park will evolve into a more sort of lively place, with other activities taking place.

Amanda Smith: Do you think that the long-term assessment of the success of the Sydney Games will actually be affected by what happens to Olympic Park?

Richard Cashman: Yes, I do, because the athletic judgement made by Mr Samaranch that it was the best-ever Games, will stand. But the longer-term judgement involves what was the point of the bid, and part of the central point of the bid was that Sydney would develop these wonderful facilities for the public, because if you look at it, the business sector have got many of their promises: theyíve got greater advertising, theyíve got increased tourism, Sydneyís more of a convention centre, we attract more financial institutions but for the public there was a great festival. The other great promise was to deliver this wonderful sports park. Now if thatís not delivered, people might sort of look back and say, ĎWell Sydney Games were successful as an athletic event, but weíre not successful in other respects.í

Amanda Smith: Richard Cashman, whoís the Director of the Olympic Studies Centre at the University of New South Wales. And next year, the International Olympic Committee is holding a conference in Lausanne about the whole question of Olympic legacy, and whether the summer Games are leaving host cities with purpose-built facilities that are too big to utilise, and too expensive to maintain. And Richard Cashman will be one of the speakers at that event.

And now to another of our great sporting sites.

MUSIC Ė ĎLeaps and Boundsí

Amanda Smith: Well, someone whoís not going leaps and bounds at the moment, over the redevelopment plans for the Melbourne Cricket Ground, which were announced last month, is Melbourne sociologist and sports fan, John Carroll. John Carroll fears that in the redevelopment of the MCG, while comfort and facilities will be gained, much of the spirit of the place will be lost.

John Carroll: I think itís an act of sheer impudence by the custodians of the ground. Theyíre going to demolish more than half of the existing grandstands. They really, I donít think thereís any prudence or caution here, and they donít have any sense of the place that the MCG has in the life of not only Victorians and Melburnians but also Australians. I mean this really is a serious sacred site in a secular sporting sense, and the gravity and the attachment and the warmth and the love that people have for the MCG has got a lot to do with its space, with its buildings, with the events that have happened there over 100 years and more, and this is something you donít play around with in a major way without utmost caution, and I canít see an atom of prudence in just bulldozing half the ground and thinking somehow the greatness and the resonance and all of that is going to be miraculously preserved.

Amanda Smith: Well the plan is to demolish three of the existing stands, the Membersí Pavilion, the Olympic Stand and the Ponsford Stand, and replace them all with one single sweeping state-of-the-art grandstand. Now none of those three existing stands really have any great architectural significance John, and the facilities they offer are below what is expected of a sports stadium these days; why not provide better sight-lines, better comfort, better facilities for spectators?

John Carroll: The Membersí Stand is the one thatís at issue and that the National Trust is rightly trying to defend. I mean my main argument for keeping the Membersí Stand, which is certainly, itís 1928, itís no architectural masterpiece, thereís no question about that, but take it out and what youíre going to have is what weíve got at Docklands, which is this sort of utter sameness, this sort of massive uniformity. The MCG is going to be turned into a sort of American Super Bowl, which could just as easily be in Vancouver or Mexico City, it will have no local distinctive feature whatsoever. And also the Membersí Stand is different. I mean for example the Mexican wave, which is so important at one-day cricket matches, as it circles the ground, it comes to the Membersí, it stops and it gives way to booing and it takes up a rhythm on the far side. Now itís perfectly clear where the Membersí Stand is, because itís distinctive, and itís not a bad looking stand. Now take out the architectural distinctiveness of that, and a very important culture feature of what happens at cricket at the MCG is in danger of being compromised. I should say thereís quite a bit at stake with the Mexican wave, because the booing of the Members is actually good-natured. I read a lot into the booming, itís friendly, itís saying, ĎLook if you think youíre different or superior or better, youíre not. I mean itís we, the people who are the custodians of this ground and weíre all here today, you the members and we, us, joined in our common higher enjoyment of sport, of being Australian, of the eventí, and thereís a terrific, impish inclusiveness in the Mexican wave. Now who knows what will happen if you take out the actual architectural distinction which defines that particular moment, in a way just bulldozing it is symptomatic of this hubris that we can tear this all down and we can re-make it in a better fashion. Now one could go on and on, if youíre tampering on such a massive scale with such an important feature in the cityís life.

Amanda Smith: Well the Long Room is going to be rebuilt into the new stand, and all the relics and memorabilia of the groundís sporting past that are currently in the Membersí Pavilion will be retained. That is, isnít it? attending to the history and atmosphere of the place?

John Carroll: Iím not a member of the MCC so in a way itís not my business, but if they think we can just recreate in that sort of way, they should go to the Australian Club in Sydney, itís one of the menís clubs in Sydney which had this beautiful old colonial building in Macquarie Street near the harbour, which I think it was about 20 years ago, it may be 30 years ago, they tore it down and they built a skyscraper thinking of the value of the site and how much money they could make, and they took over about five floors of that skyscraper for themselves, you can go there today, and they recreated the wood panelling inside, they brought in their great works of art and itís a wonderful collection of Australian painting, and they simulated the old club rooms. But itís completely lost the atmosphere; I mean itís like going into a sort of museum where you constantly know ĎThis is not the real thing.í So if you think you can tear down what is the Long Room, with its associations and with its feel, and create a sort of simulacrum of it, Iíd say Look around.

Amanda Smith: What makes a sports arena in your view, a kind of special sacred site?

John Carroll: There arenít any rules. No bureaucrat can plan this. It happens. Itís intangible, itís ineffable. Thereís something platonically perfect about the scale of the MCG. I donít know how this happened. I think itís happened over a hundred years, itís partly been good fortune, I think itís partly been good management, the size of the ground and the ratio of spaces in the stands. Iíll bet Colonial Stadium for example, is never going to attract the warmth and the sense that weíre going to a very special place, our own modern cathedral that the MCG has, and may lose. I mean these are very rich and deep veins in a culture. I mean who for example would have predicted the resurgence, the ANZAC Day parade in the last decade? I mean this is a spirit of the people and it canít be planned, it canít be redirected. And I think you fiddle around with it at your peril.

SONG-Behind The Bowlerís Arm

Youíll know where to find me

Ten rows back at the MCG

Right behind the bowlerís arm.

Amanda Smith: And to be sitting behind the bowlerís arm at the MCG, youíd have to be either in the Great Southern Stand, or the Membersí Pavilion. Not for much longer though, in the case of the latter, with the demolition and redevelopment of the Melbourne Cricket Ground due to start in April next year, to be finished in time for the 2006 Commonwealth Games. And I was speaking there with sociologist and footy and cricket fan, John Carroll.

Moving away now from giant sporting arenas, to what seems to be an emerging global trend in sports that need very little in the way of infrastructure. Sports where a stretch of sand, temporary spectator seating and hopefully a bit of sun, are all thatís required. ĎBeach sportsí are growing in popularity in various centres around the world; so far in Australia, the best known of which is beach volleyball.

MUSIC-Beach Samba

Amanda Smith: But beach volleyball isnít the only sport thatís been re-shaped into a professional beach competition in recent years. Thereís also beach soccer. Well whatís with this impetus to turn whatís been played for fun, on holidays at the beach, into spectator sport?

Phil Carling is the Senior Vice-President of ĎOctagon Worldwideí, the sports marketing company that organises and promotes beach soccer in South America and Europe.

Phil Carling: Very simply, itís four-a-side soccer, and itís played on a sand surface, and it has its origins in Brazil, in South America, where for many years kids and young men have played beach soccer, and it was really a formalisation of that sport, and a structure established, and that was done in South America and the United States, so thatís pretty much the origins of the sport.

Amanda Smith: And where are to what extent has this form of soccer now spread?

Phil Carling: Well itís experienced phenomenal growth, Iím pleased to day. Itís actually played anywhere thereís a beach around and hopefully when thereís some sun as well, which rules out England, but weíve got very strong beach soccer in South America, played in North and Central America, in Europe and more recently, in the last couple of years, weíve had some events in Asia and also in Dubai in the Middle East. Professional leagues have now been established both in South America, in Brazil and also in Europe, so itís a game which is spreading, people are getting the idea and itís becoming very popular.

Amanda Smith: In the professional beach soccer, where are the players coming from, Phil, are they transferring from traditional field soccer?

Phil Carling: To begin with that was pretty much the case, and the senior professionals within each of the national teams tend to be very famous stars from the past who perhaps are in the twilight of their careers. So an example of that would be Junior in Brazil whoís been a mainstay of the Brazilian team, and in Europe, people like Eric Cantona who is the star of the French team, but Iím very pleased to say that more recently weíve had young players coming through who are specialists in beach soccer, and in fact we had the European championships last weekend and certainly the stars of the show were young players who had selected or opted to play beach soccer as a discipline in its own right, even though they could probably have made careers in eleven-a-side.

Amanda Smith: Well now I think that plenty of people were amazed when beach volleyball appeared on the Olympic program in Atlanta in 1996; will it be though, more difficult for beach soccer to reach that sort of level of exposure and recognition, given that its traditional form has such huge global popularity compared with the traditional form of volley ball?

Phil Carling: Well I think there are two elements to that. The first is that it is played in summer and therefore doesnít compete head-on with eleven-a-side soccer, and itís not really intended to. I think the growth of the sport in such a short period of time shows that thereís clearly appetite for it, and thereís going to be an audience globally. I think it would get a big leg-up as and when we can get a world cup organised for beach soccer, because that will bring it to hopefully a global audience via television etc. And we would say this of course, but we think it would make an ideal Olympic sport and it would be a way in which beach volleyball, perhaps the stadia that are created for beach volleyball, could be further utilised, but thatís a decision for the Olympic movement of course.

Amanda Smith: Well in pushing for the development of beach soccer as a global professional spectator sport, do you want it to keep the kind of funky, fun-in-the-sun, alternative kind of party feel to it that youíve described?

Phil Carling: I think so. Thereís something quite innocent about one of those events, and in a lot of respects maintaining that is very important. We had representatives from FIFA at the recent European finals and they actually commented on the fact that from a fair play perspective, the camaraderie between the players, the enjoyment of the fans, it was a reminder of perhaps a more innocent age, and I think that you should try and maintain that, and itís certainly one of the elements of beach soccer that is well worth maintaining: both from the playersí perspective and also the perspective of the fans that enjoy it.

Amanda Smith: And perhaps not a version of the sport thatís likely to attract hooligans?

Phil Carling: (laughs) Well I always say that itís difficult to be a hooligan when youíve got children, women, and youíve having fun, thereís music and a party atmosphere, so yes, definitely weíd avoid that.

Amanda Smith: Well what is the view of FIFA, the world soccer authority, to beach soccer, what sort of interest do they have in this form of the game?

Phil Carling: Through FIFAís Technical Department, they are very, very keen. Theyíre looking at two derivatives if you like, of soccer. One is Futsal which is five-a-side, football, small-sided football normally played indoors, and also beach soccer, so theyíre looking at those two derivatives. And what interests them with both those sports is that as the world population becomes more urbanised, then the pressure on space is that much greater, and that affects eleven-a-side football, so derivatives such as Futsal and beach soccer may actually be the future for the game in urban areas, and not only that, with small-sided football particularly beach soccer, the skills that one needs to play the game are learned at an early age, and they can be migrated very easily to eleven-a-side football, and thatís very important for the development of skills for the eleven -a-side game. So on a technical level and an organisational level, FIFA are very interested in beach soccer and theyíre working with us to further develop the sport and to move it forward.

Amanda Smith: Phil Carling, whoís the Senior Vice-President of beach soccer promoters, Octagon Worldwide, speaking to me from his office in London.


Amanda Smith: Well are we going to see beach soccer, and beach variants of other sports, join beach volleyball as a spectator sport in Australia? Craig Carracher is the Chief Executive of another international sports marketing company, the iSport Group. Normally based in Australia, Craig Carracher is in the UK at the moment, formulating plans to bring some of the now popular European beach sports to a stretch of sand near you.

Craig Carracher: I think the Australian culture lends itself perfectly to the adaptation of traditional sports to the beaches. Beach volleyball is not the first sport to go to the beach, but itís certainly the most established worldwide. Thereís a range of sports now that are jumping on the beach bandwagon.

Amanda Smith: And what are you working on in this area?

Craig Carracher: Weíre considering now a number of beach sports. Weíve worked with beach volleyball for three years, and I before that for a further seven years, and during that period we learned quite a bit about the threat of other sports coming to the beach, protecting our own space with beach volleyball, and those sports that we particularly were concerned with were soccer, and weíre quite excited about seeing beach soccer now coming to Australia. We also think some of the other great sports of Europe and of South America could be brought to Australia and shown and presented to the Australian public and the Australian media and corporate sponsors, and those sports of course include beach handball, handball being an enormous sport in Europe, but not very well known in Australia outside of the recent Olympic campaign. So there are a number of sports, and then of course there are the mighty Brazilians who dominate beach volleyball, dominate soccer, they also have their own version of volleyball and soccer, a combination of both volleyball skills and the soccer skills on a net very similar to the volleyball net.

Craig Carracher: Whatís that called?

Craig Carracher: Itís got about 20 different names, and the Brazilian name I donít want to pronounce. We call it Soccer-Voll and I think thatís an appropriate name because mostly they playing the soccer game, theyíre not using their hands on the court, theyíre basically playing soccer rules, they use their knees, their heads and their feet and they effectively do the bicycle scissors kick to get up and over the net with their foot and then spike the ball down with their foot, itís quite an extraordinary game, and the beaches of Brazil are covered, literally covered, with these soccer-volley or volley-soccer courts up and down the beaches throughout the Copacabana region.

Amanda Smith: Well what about beach cricket, Craig, thatís a great Aussie tradition after all.

Craig Carracher: It is. I somehow feel that beach cricket hasnít really been engineered in Australia, and if itís going to be engineered anywhere itís likely to be engineered in the West Indies or Australia or perhaps on the great southern beaches of South Africa. So I think thereís a potential for beach cricket, but I fear that its potential as an enjoyable niche discipline is probably limited by the fact that it is a sport that would be playing during the same season as the traditional sport.

Amanda Smith: Well what sort of time line are you working on to get up some sort of beach sports package running in Australia?

Craig Carracher: We had considered it for this summer, but there are a number of events that we think would have limited the potential and keeping in mind that you canít ticket these events, one of your primary revenue streams in most sport is lost to the promoter. So with sponsorship being so important the timing does have to be right, but also the understanding of what these disciplines are. So beach volleyball is now well understood and I know ten years ago it certainly was not, even six years ago in 1995 prior to the Atlanta Games it was not. So we are now researching quite closely, the delivery of some beach sports, not this coming Australian summer, but certainly into the following summer, and unfortunately it will take almost 18 months in the preparation to bring at least three of those disciplines together, and the disciplines we are looking at of course is beach volleyball if itís prepared to participate in this sort of environment, it of course now has leap-frogged, I guess its niche status as a discipline. Beach soccer of course, beach handball, beach cricket as youíve mentioned, and the Brazilian version of soccer on a volleyball net.

Amanda Smith: Well look, a significant growth area in new sport through the 1990s was extreme sport, where danger and risk-taking is built into the appeal, but the culture around beach sports seems to be the antithesis of that, relaxed and sort of fun-in-the-sun stuff. Is that what might appeal now for participants and spectators rather than that sort of risking life and limb with sky surfing and street luge and other extreme sports?

Craig Carracher: You put it like that, and you naturally tend to want to hope so, donít you? I think thereís enough fear permeating through most societies now not to want to engage in any more, and recent events I think have unveiled that. You are set in a very relaxed atmosphere. The venues are some of the best venues you could entertain for sport in the world, the beaches of Rio, the beaches of Sydney, and thatís one of the wonderful things about beach volleyball and the beach disciplines. The atmosphere and the environment are already there, all weíre doing when we present these events is add another component to it.

Amanda Smith: Craig Carracher, CEO of the iSport Group, hoping to get up a circuit of beach sports events in Australia in the coming years. So, next time youíre down at the beach kicking around a soccer ball, or bashing a tennis ball with a cricket bat, show your best form, there may be talent scouts out and about waiting to sign you up!

And thatís The Sports Factor for this week on Radio National.

Michael Shirrefs produces The Sports Factor, and Iím Amanda Smith.


Guests on this program:

Richard Cashman
Director of the Centre for Olympic Studies.

John Carroll
Sociologist and author of "Ego & Soul: The Modern West In Search Of Meaning".

Phil Carling
Senior Vice-President of Octagon World-Wide.

Craig Carracher
CEO of the iSport Group.

Musical Items:

Leaps And Bounds
Time to Air: 0830
Artist: Paul Kelly
Composer: Paul Kelly
Label/CD No: Mushroom MUSH 3309.2
Copyright: Mushroom

Behind The Bowler's Arm
Time to Air: 0830
Artist: Paul Kelly
Composer: Paul Kelly
Label/CD No: Mushroom D1253
Copyright: Mushroom

Beach Samba
Time to Air: 0830
Artist: Astrud Gilberto
Composer: Riberio/Cunha
Label/CD No: Verve 825 064-2
Copyright: Keith Music

Amanda Smith

Michael Shirrefs

© 2002 ABC