Culture

Dawn Fraser’s Racist Comments About Nick Kyrgios Show Why We Should Stop Exalting Sportspeople

If we put people on pedestals for being good at sport, they'll inevitably disappoint us.

Wimbledon’s on, and as is mandated by the Constitution on such occasions, the country has pinned its entire identity on a kid who can hit a ball with a racquet good. The furore around twenty-year-old Nick Kyrgios’ performance has been overshadowed this morning by racist remarks about him and another Australian player by swimming champion Dawn Fraser, and it’s all just very unpleasant and could something nice happen for ONCE, please.

Pictured: the world.

Kyrgios has rapidly gone from Messiah to very naughty boy over the tournament’s course due to his frequently abrasive and rude behaviour, and is now being accused of throwing a game against France’s Richard Gasquet by intentionally missing shots.

That, combined with the dumping of fellow player Bernard Tomic from Australia’s Wimbledon squad for publicly criticising Pat Rafter and Tennis Australia last week, has led to plenty of the kind of head-shaking and hand-wringing that always starts whenever a sporting figure turns out not to be the angel of unalloyed perfection we so desperately want them to be.

In an interview on the Today Show this morning, former swimming champion Dawn Fraser was asked what she thought of Kyrgios and Tomic’s behaviour, and her answer strayed from the usual finger-wagging —  “they should be setting a better example for the younger generation of this country” — into outright bigotry, saying that, “If they [Kyrgios and Tomic] don’t like it, go back to where their fathers or their parents came from, we don’t need them here in this country.”

It happens about 3:10 in the video below.

Understandably, Fraser’s comments have prompted a pretty large backlash online, with her Wikipedia page getting a colourful new descriptor. Kyrgios himself, who takes great pride in his Greek and Malaysian heritage, has responded to Fraser’s remarks in a succinct Facebook post which does a pretty good job of summing up this whole mess:

If there’s anything we can take from this vastly unpleasant experience, it’s probably worth re-examining how we expect our sporting figures to be somehow more than they are. Kyrgios was everyone’s golden boy until this past week — even Junkee jumped on that bandwagon — and Fraser has been a go-to Aussie Hero for morning shows and TV specials for decades, but once they revealed something other than perfection that adulation turned sour mighty quick.

Both Kyrgios and Fraser have now experienced both sides of what it is to be a major sporting figure in Australia — idol one moment, pariah the next — and while in Fraser’s case that criticism seems justified, Kyrgios is a twenty-year-old kid given worldwide fame, oodles of money and the burden of being Australia’s Next Great Hope. He’s the latest in a long, long line of young sportspeople inflated to impossible dimensions by our relentless praise, before being pricked with a thousand needles for having a big ego. And we wonder why he throws the odd tantrum.

Kyrgios’ on-court antics can be pretty unpleasant to watch — he yells at umpires, swears, bashes his racquet on the ground, and generally continues the great tradition of successful Australian tennis players acting like massive angry babies. All very concerning until you remember that none of that remotely matters because it’s a game of freaking tennis and if you don’t like it change the channel or something. There’s no excuse for denigrating his race, but the rest of the slanging against a kid in a very odd, very precarious set of circumstances shouldn’t get off lightly either.

It’s almost as if relying on sportspeople to be the ultimate representations of our society is a stupid idea, and we should stop doing it.