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With Amanda Smith

Origin of the Ashes


This week, how sports organisations are now trying to address the “insurance crisis”, which has caused the cancellation of numerous community sports events this year.

Plus, as the call has once again gone up for cricket’s famous Ashes trophy to be returned to Australia, a look into the origins of this little urn, which are still shrouded in mystery.

And, the oldest world championship in sport, just won for the 9th year in a row by an Australian. The sport is Royal Tennis, and the champion is Rob Fahey.

Details or Transcript:

Amanda Smith: Coming up on The Sports Factor, the oldest World Championship in sport that’s also just been won for the 9th year in a row, by an Australian.

Also, with the debate raging about whether the original Ashes urn should be returned to Australia from England, we’ll look into the origins of this little urn, still shrouded in mystery.


Amanda Smith: First up on The Sports Factor, one of the major issues that’s been facing Australian sport over this past year: the insurance crisis, which has threatened the existence and viability of all kinds of sport, big and small, amateur and professional. In a moment we’ll find out what sports are now doing to deal with this. But before that, and to get a sense of how bad this public liability insurance crisis has got, a couple of examples.

Belle Moore is the Secretary of the Recreation and Sport Advisory Council in Northam, which is about 100 ks inland from Perth. This year, for a local event Belle was organising, she couldn’t even get to first base when it came to insurance.

Belle Moore: In fact I’d start to talk to people and they’d say, ‘Madam of you want public liability, we’re not going to extend the conversation.’ And that happened several times. I was having a problem; how was I going to have an evening for the community if we couldn’t get public liability?

Amanda Smith: And what sort of things are you talking about? What sort of sports or events did you need to get this coverage for?

Belle Moore: It’s for an Awards night, one night of the year.

Amanda Smith: So this was just an Awards night, an indoor event, not even a sports event that you couldn’t get coverage for?

Belle Moore: That’s right. It was just a dinner, with a bar. And we’ve been going for 21 years, and touch wood, we haven’t had any problems, but that was their reaction. I think just the word ‘sport’.

Amanda Smith: So because the word ‘sport’ was involved in this dinner, it was a sports awards night, that meant all the problems?

Belle Moore: Yes, that seemed to be the word, ‘sport’, which was very strange, because we considered ‘award’ and ‘dinner’ was more important, but the person providing the insurance cover didn’t. And as I was saying, we had no history of any claims, and we’ve been going for 21 years. So it was amazing really, the reaction I had.

Amanda Smith: And Michelle Arthur tells a similar story. Michelle’s the Events Co-ordinator for the Activ Foundation, which supports people with intellectual disabilities in Western Australia. The Foundation’s major fund-raising event is a City to Surf fun run. It’s held each year at the end of August. But this year’s City to Surf race almost didn’t go ahead.

Michelle Arthur: Previously as an organisation, being a not-for-profit, all of our insurance, we have many facilities right throughout Western Australia, were all pulled together for one, and it was considered up until the whole public liability bang and everything going a bit haywire there, was that our fund raising came under our core business activities there, which now that’s been split and unravelled, so that we need to find insurance separately for it. But we literally didn’t get insurance until the week before the event, which is quite difficult when you’re dealing with five different Councils. I mean we’ve got very extensive risk management plans as we must do with 16,000 people, but certainly not being able to have that documentation until the week before was quite a head stress.

Amanda Smith: At that point you must have thought you may have to cancel the event.

Michelle Arthur: Certainly. It’s the real possibility that you can’t literally run it without your basic $10-million. I mean that’s pretty much become the benchmark for the industry now that you need $10-million for a major event.

Amanda Smith: $10-million of insurance coverage?

Michelle Arthur: That’s correct. So the general insurer that we had used previously and we’re using for our other facilities did step away from it because they didn’t have the knowledge or the trust or the confidence basically in being able to accurately assess it, and therefore cover themselves, given any major accident.

Amanda Smith: And stories like those have been experienced by all sorts of sports and events over the past year or so. Sport Industry Australia is the peak representative body for Australian sport, and it’s trying to find a workable solution. Sarah Lucas is the Chief Executive Officer there, and she says that the enormous increases in the cost of public liability insurance, if sports organisations can get cover at all, really has had everyone tearing their hair out.

Sarah Lucas: Well that’s right. I mean they’ve really got three key options to pursue if they’re hit with a premium hike of that sort of kind. I mean they can obviously increase membership fees but that can have very adverse effects on participation numbers. They can change the nature of the policy that they’re taking up, which can really still expose them to a fair degree of risk. Or they can simply not insure at all, or I guess they can just close down. So really, they’re not faced with particularly attractive options.

Amanda Smith: Why has sport in particular suffered so badly from the changes of the last year or so in public liability insurance?

Sarah Lucas: Well it’s interesting you ask that. In actual fact they shouldn’t have suffered that badly. The Trowbridge Report which was prepared by Trowbridge Deloitte actuaries for Senator Coonan in March of this year, actually identified sport and recreation and also the welfare and community sector as two of the better performing areas in public liability over the years. So it’s been very difficult, and sport has actually been hit harder. So I think because of the perception of the danger involved, the changing community attitudes towards blaming somebody, or suing in effect, when there is an accident, which really should be considered as part of the normal activity, and also the insurance companies wanting to get out of a market that they don’t perhaps understand to the extent that they should. So it’s been an easy area to pick on I think.

Amanda Smith: So what’s your organisation, Sport Industry Australia, doing to try and fix up this mess?

Sarah Lucas: We’ve actually engaged insurance companies in this issue. It was notable that they were fairly quiet in this whole crisis and this whole situation, so we actually went to them and said, Well what is it that you need that will make you reassess the way you are deciding premiums for sport. And in effect what we’ve come up with is an industry standard accreditation scheme, and that accreditation scheme relates primarily to risk management and for public liability insurance. So we’ve set this up and what we’ll do is organisations which are cheap, the accreditation standard, will be able to purchase a specific insurance product from n insurer, who we’re still in negotiations with, but it’s going well, which will actually recognise that accreditation standard, so if in the past they’ve been unable to secure insurance and they reach the accreditation standard, then they will actually be able to get the insurance and other sports will be able to get it at a comparatively better price. This is also an important part, not just for the insurance, but also for the industry to establish best practice standards so that both the organisations and consumers can have a level of confidence in the operations of the sporting organisation.

Amanda Smith: So take us through say what a local footy club or league would do to get this accreditation that you’re working on and what that would give them.

Sarah Lucas: Sure. They apply to us to get a copy of the audit guidelines, which cover all the risk management. There’s a generic guideline and then there’ll be a sport specific one for their sport. They will go through that, do a self assessment. If they think they’re up to standard, then they can apply for accreditation and we will have an external auditor come in to do that accreditation. They’ll then be able to purchase that insurance product. If they’re not up to standard they will have to address those areas in their risk management plan. We can assist with that. So then they can actually badge themselves as an accredited organisation. It is something we actually have to do, it is the reality now that to deal with this crisis, and also to protect our organisations in light of some of the legislative changes that have occurred to put the onus of responsibility for their actions onto the participants. Now we agreed with that to a certain extent, but in doing so people will need that confidence that the organisation they’re participating in or that they’ve got their kids enrolled with, is actually doing the right thing and delivering their sport in the safest way possible.

Amanda Smith: So that shift in onus of responsibility away from sports organisers and on to members or participants, that hasn’t been an entirely good thing for sports organisations?

Sarah Lucas: Well I think it has to go hand in hand with industry standards. What has to happen is that we have a set of industry standards in place, and if an organisation is accredited then they know they’re doing the right thing. If people are then able to sign a waiver to say they accept the responsibility, or they accept the responsibility for their own actions, and they accept the inherent and obvious risks involved in sport, then that’s going to give the organisation some security against negligence actions. In sport, you often get injured, it doesn’t mean it was a negligent act involved. If there was, yes, take a negligence action, but if there wasn’t, then the organisations should be securing that. And that’s really what the insurance companies want to see too.

Amanda Smith: Sarah Lucas, the Chief Executive Officer for Sport Industry Australia, based in Canberra. And Sarah expects to have this insurance accreditation scheme, called ‘Safesport’, up and running early in the New Year.

Now to what must be the least significant-looking of sporting trophies in the world, but the one with the greatest mystique and controversy around it. I’m talking about the Ashes urn, the symbolic prize for the cricket Test Match series played between England and Australia. Australia has of course already won the Ashes series that’s currently being played here for the 8th time in a row, and that’s meant the debate has blown up again about why the urn can’t leave its home at Lord’s and come back to Australia.

Well this object of desire is also the subject of considerable historical debate. One of those who’s researched the original Ashes urn is Joy Munns. Joy’s a local historian of the Sunbury area, north-west of Melbourne, a location that’s important to her theory. And it’s in Sunbury that I spoke with Joy about the little urn that’s grown so big in our imagination, and the background to its place in cricket.

Joy Munns: In a nutshell I suppose you could say it was a joke that got out of hand. Actually for a trophy that no matter which nation wins the series, neither of them actually possess, because the trophy actually belongs now to Lord’s, to Marylebone Cricket Club, and it was only ever left there once, it came out to Australia for our bicentenary celebrations and was in Sydney for a short time.

Amanda Smith: Under great security.

Joy Munns: Under great security yes. So even that in itself will show you just how much importance is placed on the urn itself. It is such a very small trophy, if you like a very insignificant trophy if you compare it to other great huge silver cups and things like this which are on offer in other sporting fields. But it is just the mystique, the aura, it is the Ashes, what more can you say?

Amanda Smith: Now it’s pretty well-known where the joke, and the term ‘The Ashes’ had its genesis. In August 1882, an Australian team beat England, in England, for the first time. This prompted an English journalist, Reginald Brooks, to write a mock obituary in The Sporting Times, saying that English cricket had died, and that the body would be cremated and the Ashes taken to Australia. The particular wording of this ‘obituary’, says Joy Munns, was as much about another controversy going at the time as it was about cricket.

Joy Munns: Now at that time in England, there was a great debate being carried on over human cremation. Now Brooks’ father actually belonged to a cremation society which was set up to actually have human cremation legalised. So Brooks’ obituary notice, besides mourning the loss of English supremacy, if you like, on the cricket field, was actually a bit of a double-edged sword, because it did refer, by including the words ‘cremation’, ‘ashes’, etc. he was virtually having a bit of a dig, if you like, and having his little say on the human cremation debate. Now even though there was no urn, there were no Ashes at that time. This is all we had, an obituary notice. And it virtually started from there, and when Ivor Bligh, the English Captain came out to Australia at the end of that year, 1882, ye made reference to bringing home, or taking home the Ashes. So he was sort of keeping this little joke alive, if you like.

Amanda Smith: But when and where did the original Ashes urn itself appear? This is the point of conjecture and debate. Although from her research Joy Munns believes it was December 1882, 120 years ago, in Sunbury in Victoria, at Rupertswood. Rupertswood was the country property of Sir William Clarke, who was at that time the President of the Melbourne Cricket Club.

Joy Munns: And on Christmas Eve, 24th December, William Clarke actually organised a bit of a social hit-out on the cricket field at Rupertswood. He had a lot of family guests there to spend Christmas, and it was more or less a spur of the moment thing, a bit of light entertainment. And the English team –

Amanda Smith: So he’d invited the English team to play this cricket game at Rupertswood?

Joy Munns: Virtually, yes. The eight amateur members of the English team were actually his guests at Rupertswood, they were staying there. And it was just got up, a bit of a hit-out, and that’s all it was. Clarke’s servants were busy retrieving fours and sixes from all over the place and throwing them back, so it was a just a bit of entertainment and a bit of fun. But at the end of it, Janet, Lady Clarke, decided to actually present the English Captain with the very object he’d actually said he was coming out here to retrieve, and she burned her veil, put the ashes into a small urn which she had, and just sort of presented it to Bligh, a continuation of the joke, it was never meant to go any further than that. But it did. But that is actually where it all started, and how it started. There is a lot of evidence to support Rupertswood.

Amanda Smith: But are there conflicting claims, and what are they?

Joy Munns: Yes, your main conflicting claim is that the Ashes came into being after the Third Test in Sydney which was in 1883. There is no hard evidence to support this claim, and a lot of it is firmly based on the fact that there is a velvet bag which accompanies the urn and which is on display at Lord’s. Now the date on the velvet bag is 1883, and that’s been the big stumbling block over the years. The fact that 1883 is on the bag is very easily explained because after England won that Third Test she actually won the series. So in effect, Bligh could actually say that he had retrieved his Ashes, even though the public at large didn’t know they had existed at the time. But Annie Fletcher, up in Sydney, who was wife of the Paddington Club Secretary, she knew of the existence of the urn and had quite possibly even seen it. Now she made the velvet bag, and put 1883 on it because in actual fact that was when officially, if you like, Bligh regained his Ashes. And it wasn’t publicly official but it made it official amongst a very sort of elite circle, if you like. Now that has been your stumbling block, the 1883, and that is your main rival.

Amanda Smith: And what’s your interest in delving into all this?

Joy Munns: Right, my interest. A love of history, basically. And to me a trophy of such importance, a valued trophy as the Ashes or the urn is, nobody really knew where it came from. And any books or magazines, anything you read on the origin of the Ashes, really just glosses over it. Everybody’s interested in later Ashes matches and conflicts etc., which is all very great, but nobody actually knows where it all started.

Amanda Smith: Joy Munns, who’s the author of ‘Beyond Reasonable Doubt’, her account of the origins of the Ashes urn. And that particular theory has become known as ‘The Rupertswood Claim’.

And now to a sport that’s even older than cricket, in fact has the oldest continuously running world championship of all sports. It’s Royal Tennis, and this year’s world championship has just been held at Hampton Court Palace in the UK. The men’s singles title was won, for the 9th year in a row, by an Australian. Rob Fahey started playing Royal Tennis in the mid-1980s, in his home town of Hobart. And because this is such an old game, played with archaic equipment, and a world championship that dates back to 1740, I had to ask the champ, Rob Fahey, where Royal Tennis began.

Rob Fahey: Well it was started by the French monks about 500 years ago. They were obviously very bored and looking for something to do in their monasteries and things, so they got together a few clumps of hair and things and made a ball, and started hitting it around the cloisters, off the roofs and through the windows and anywhere. 500 years later, here we are playing this game.

Amanda Smith: Yes, well where’s it played now?

Rob Fahey: It’s only played in the four countries: Australia, the US, France and the UK. Mainly in the UK, they have about 30 courts, and there’s about another ten or so strewn around the world.

Amanda Smith: And how did it come to Australia.

Rob Fahey: It’s a sort of point of contention, that one. Ballarat claim they had a court in the gold-mining days, so nobody knows how that would have got there. But Hobart still claims to have the oldest court, 1875 and an English trader just came out and built a huge house in the middle of the city and it was one of those things you build in your backyard, a bit like today, a tennis court in the backyard.

Amanda Smith: Now lawn tennis of course developed out of Royal Tennis, but the difference between the two I think has been described as like the difference between chess and draughts, because Royal Tennis is a much more complex game. What are the major differences between the two tennises?

Rob Fahey: Two major differences. One is that we’re indoor and the walls are all in play, a bit like squash. And the other one is a slightly unusual concept whereby if the ball bounces twice, you haven’t necessarily lost the point, you have the chance to actually change ends.

Amanda Smith: That sounds much more like my kind of tennis, letting the ball bounce twice before you hit it.

Rob Fahey: It’s a lot better I can assure you.

Amanda Smith: And what sort of racquet are you using?

Rob Fahey: Quite a sort of heavy wooden racquet with a very small head. Not a lot of surface to muck around with, and they’re made in England, all hand made, nothing super technical about them, just a chunk of wood really.

Amanda Smith: And I’ve heard Royal Tennis people call lawn tennis flannel-ball. Why is that?

Rob Fahey: That’s just being rude really. I think we like to think that it’s quite a fast game that we play, I mean relative to lawn tennis, it is, because the balls are a lot harder and so they travel a lot quicker.

Amanda Smith: Well what is the Royal Tennis ball made from?

Rob Fahey: It’s actually made from heading tape, things you make curtains and things out of.

Amanda Smith: Oh, that’s handy.

Rick Burton: Yes, it is. It’s cotton, wound up in a very tight ball, which is then tied with string even tighter, so they don’t bounce but they do go quite quickly.

Amanda Smith: Now sometimes it’s called Royal Tennis and sometimes it’s called Real Tennis. Does that depend on whether you’re a monarchist or just want to stress that it’s the genuine article?

Rob Fahey: No it’s a bit silly really. There are only four countries that play it, and we’ve all got a different name for it. It’s called Royal Tennis in Australia, Real Tennis in the UK, it’s called Court Tennis in America for some reason, and it’s Jeu de pomme in France.


Amanda Smith: Now Royal Tennis, Real Tennis, Court Tennis, whatever you call it, not only has a very strong sense of history and tradition about it as you’ve been saying, but also one of exclusivity. How did you get into it?

Rob Fahey: Quite by chance really. It was just a job advertised in Hobart for an assistant to the then professional, and I’d never heard of it, but I’d played a lot of lawn tennis so I thought I’ll go and have a look, might get the bit of cash, and years later, here I am.

Amanda Smith: Right. Now these World Championships, how do they work in Royal Tennis?

Rob Fahey: It’s a little bit like the America’s Cup, in that the champion gets to wait in the final for the others, for the challengers, and they all play off to whittle themselves down to one, and they turn up against me.

Amanda Smith: Are you playing in sets in a similar way to lawn tennis?

Rob Fahey: Yes, we play out of six. Best of 13, six-game sets we play. The only difference being that because you only ever serve from end, we play 5-all and then six, we don’t have an advantage.

Amanda Smith: And what are the economics of Royal Tennis? Is there prizemoney involved in these championships?

Rob Fahey: You could say that. I’m no millionaire.

Andrew Ford: So what does that mean? There’s a bit of prizemoney?

Rob Fahey: Yes it’s sort of you take your gate money and that’s about it really.

Amanda Smith: Rob Fahey, who this week once again won the world championship for Royal Tennis for the 9th year in a row. So you see, Australia currently boasts the men’s number one in both kinds of tennis, lawn and royal. Although Rob Fahey doesn’t quite enjoy the profile and spoils that Leyton Hewitt does.

Well Royal Tennis is an old sport that’s surviving, in a modest way, in four countries of the world. But in a globalised, technologically advanced world, what is the future of sport in general? Will the mass market sports that generate huge amounts of money eventually just swamp everything else? And in a borderless, globalised world, what should national governments be focusing on when it comes to sports events? These are questions that have been exercising the mind of Hans Westerbeek. Hans is a founding board member of the European Association for Sport Management. Since moving from Holland, he’s now the Vice-President of the Sport Management Association of Australia and New Zealand, and he’s the co-author of a new book called ‘Sport Business in the Global Marketplace’. So, is globalisation having a positive or a negative effect on sport?

Hans Westerbeek: When you look at globalisation as something that’s evil and many of the anti-globalisation protests are premised on the basis that they are Western values, American values, values of trade rather than values of a better world for all of us, then globalisation indeed is something that also will impact negatively on the future of sport. However, globalisation in my mind is much more a function of the opportunities that technology have given us to talk to bigger groups of people. And business takes advantage of those opportunities. So globalisation again is not something evil in its own right, it can turn evil when applying wrong principles or wrong value systems or narrow-minded value systems to it, and that’s where the whole system falls down if you indeed only apply Americanised or Westernised values to sport in a global context.

Amanda Smith: Well the important economic, social and political shift of our time is that of globalisation. Would you say that sport is ideally suited to, and perhaps even one of the key instruments of this globalisation?

Hans Westerbeek: I think so, yes. I think sport is more than any other form of popular and ancient culture for that matter, a language that is spoken by people all over the world, rather than in a confined area. Sport has always had its antecedents in tribal rituals and all those kind of things, therefore it is basically a modern way of communicating something to the rest of the tribe, and sport is a language that is understood by what you can call the mega-tribe which you know, are all the people on the planet.

Amanda Smith: Now your interest is really to try to understand where global sport is heading now, what the future is for sport and the business of sport. If you did have to name one sport or event that you think will succeed globally above all others into the 21st century, what would it be?

Hans Westerbeek: Well many people may think that as a Dutchie I’d pick soccer, and the World Cup, and irrespective of my love of the game I’d probably pick an event that has multiple opportunities to accommodate multiple markets, and the obvious one there is the Olympic Games that are multi-sport events either based on a regional or global scale. Events that now slowly are emerging to be accepted as high potential events and Melbourne has recently hosted one, the World Masters Games, these events do not –

Amanda Smith: And would you include the World Gay Games that Sydney’s just hosted?

Hans Westerbeek: Definitely. The Gay Games are another event where the emphasis is on something completely different. It’s not based on TV ratings and mass market communication and sponsorship communication, it’s based on people getting together for the fun of it. And opportunities that extend well beyond the event for regions and cities to benefit from those events. The Masters Games offered tourism packages prior to and after the Games, and families, rather than athletes, visited the Masters Games.

Amanda Smith: So you think those large-scale world participatory style games have a greater potential than say the professional sports events like the Soccer World Cup, or other World Cups in Rugby?

Hans Westerbeek: If I had to put my money onto one or the other event from an investment point of view, the mass audience events will always win.

Amanda Smith: There you are talking about the Soccer World Cup for example?

Hans Westerbeek: Correct, yes and that’s from an economic point of view, first and foremost. If I look at a more broad application of outcomes and objectives, then the catchphrase of good corporate citizenship for example, rather than only looking at bottom line, there’s also social issues and environmental issues, then those events rise to the surface and need to be strongly considered by I guess representative entities such as governments in particular. You know, governments have continued to subsidise the commercial events more than the generic, non-media events. And governments in my mind should be much more focusing on what is for the good of many more people, rather than those overpaid athletes that make sufficient money anyway.

Amanda Smith: Hans Westerbeek, who lectures in the business of sport at Deakin University, and who’s one of the authors of ‘Sport Business in the Global Marketplace’.

And that’s The Sports Factor for this Friday. I’m Amanda Smith, thanks for your company. Maria Tickle is the program producer, Paul Penton is technical producer.

Guests on this program:
Belle Moore - Secretary of the Recreation and Sport Advisory Council, Northam
Joy Munns - author "Beyond Reasonable Doubt"
Rob Fahey - Royal Tennis singles champion
Michelle Arthur - Events Co-ordinator, Activ Foundation
Sarah Lucas - CEO Sports Industry Australia
Hans Westerbeek - Board Member European Association for Sport Management


Sport Business in the Global Marketplace
Author: Hans Westerbeek and Aaron Smith
Publisher: Palgrave MacMillan

Amanda Smith

Maria Tickle

© 2003 ABC

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