New York, here we come!
Start spreading the news I'm leaving today I want to be a part of it New York, New York
And If I can make it there I'll make it practically anywhere It's up to you New York, New York New York… Frank Sinatra
In three weeks, the year’s fourth and final Grand Slam tennis tournament commences in New York.
It will be a fortnight of intense interest. For most, the two burning questions will be whether Novak Djokovic can complete a calendar Grand Slam and if Naomi Osaka can regather her competitive spirit. For Australians, there are the questions of whether Ashleigh Barty, still smarting from her early loss at the Olympics, can capture her third Grand Slam title by winning the only Grand Slam title that eluded her heroine and mentor, Evonne Cawley and the hope that Dylan Alcott can claim a wheelchair tennis Grand Slam.
I first encountered the name of New York as a child on one of my father’s used packets of Peter Stuyvesant cigarettes. Spread around the packet were the names of the world’s best-known cities: London, Paris, Rome and New York itself, as Petrus Stuyvesant was the Governor of New Amsterdam, later to become New York. The advertising slogan was: “Peter Stuyvesant: The taste of the whole wide world”.
Tokyo was not listed on the packet, perhaps reflecting an era when Japan was still viewed suspiciously by many after events of World War 2. It is hard to believe that 76 years, to the week, have passed since the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at war’s end.
Tokyo’s hosting of the 1964 Olympics was a significant step in the nation’s rapprochement with the international community.
Over the last fortnight, there would have been few unaware of the Japanese capital. Whilst New York prepares to host a sporting event featuring one sport over fourteen days, Tokyo hosted its second Olympics orchestrating thousands of athletes in a cavalcade of contests. Staging an Olympics is difficult enough at the best of times. Tokyo, albeit a year behind schedule, managed to stage an Olympics amidst the Covid pandemic.
For me the Olympics seemed to take place in a parallel universe. Despite Tokyo’s rising Covid numbers, the threats of mass super-spreader events and infections, the Olympics were safely staged and provided extraordinary memories. Organisation, efficiency and resolve combined to produce an Olympic Games that may well have breathed new life into the Olympic movement. Dare I say it, but the Games provided the “shot in the arm” that many needed. After months of disappointments, despair and desperation, the world could witness treasured moments of triumph, tenacity, and incredible talent.
As the Olympics end, Australians must be wondering whether some of the Tokyo spirit can be brought home with our athletes who garnered an equal record number of gold medals
This week Australians will be completing the national Census to provide a snapshot of this time in our history. Advertisements reminding citizens of their civic duty could not be more ironic: “Tuesday August 10 is National Census Day: If you know where you are going to be on Tuesday evening you can complete the Census now.”
Not a hard question for some 15 million Australians to answer! For the last 48 hours some 15,000,000 Australians have been living in enforced lockdown. Again. For Melburnians it is confinement No.6. Yesterday South-East Queenslanders had their restraints removed. Maybe this is the benefit of living in a region that will host the 2032 Summer Olympics? For people living in Victoria and most of New South Wales, they know all too well where they will be!
The “indissoluble Commonwealth” has become a nation incapable of galvanising itself to overcome the debilitating effects of the pandemic. Premiers and their Health Ministers and/or their Chief Health Ministers increasingly squabble and/or gloat about their respective strategies. Our Prime Minister seems uniquely inept in making clear how and when the nation must seek to lift its dismal rates of vaccination. All his messages have been muddled and, disappointingly, muted. Hands up who amongst us has a clear understanding of who should be vaccinated with what and when?
Ironically, Australia’s good management and luck in avoiding the calamitous effects of the first wave of the pandemic have rebounded on us. Americans and Britons have stampeded to vaccination centres having lived through the horrors of mass civilian deaths. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Australians, relatively untouched by fatalities, have been reluctant to “get the jab”. The paralysis of our largest cities is likely to be the greatest spur for people to mobilise en masse to be vaccinated.
Amidst the chorus of complaint that our nation does not have worthy leaders, let’s remember that citizens must recognise the worth of leadership. Are we that surprised after decades of demeaning the noble art of politics, most Australians dismiss our representatives “as being as bad as each other?” It is chicken and egg stuff; however, the suggestion from Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, that a $300.00 cash payment was required to galvanise vaccination rates said much. Do our politicians feel compelled to reach for the lever of mercenary self-interest as a first or last resort? It is worrying that an appeal to “virtue being its own reward” may be falling on deaf ears. If a pandemic does not make people aware of the importance of democratic structures, electing intelligent policy makers and thoughtful public discourse, what will? If enlightened self-interest can only be guaranteed by payment of money the nation cannot afford, we are in trouble.
Will there ever be a normal discussion about “normal” again? Epidemiologists, whose profession was barely known by most before the pandemic, are the new oracles of our time. They are being repeatedly asked what national rate of vaccination will be needed before “normal life can return.” Their answers range from 70%-80%.
As an amateur psephologist, I am prepared to propose a correlation between this desired rate of vaccination and compulsory voting.
All Australian citizens, 18 or over, are required to enrol to vote. 100% participation in our representative democracy is the ideal. However, attainment of the ideal is prevented by those who never bother to enrol and those who forget to vote on election days and/or deliberately record an informal vote and/or register a donkey vote. So, from the 100% who are eligible, we typically have 85-88% vote sensibly at an election.
Similarly, there will be those who will choose not to be vaccinated for several perverse and bizarre reasons and there are those for whom inertia will prevail. If you can be bothered to vote, you are probably going to be motivated to be vaccinated.
Just as those who do not vote have no right to complain about the defects of democracy, then those who choose not to be vaccinated must be prepared to forfeit the freedoms of society that vaccination will grant them.
The French government have introduced their pass sanitaire to reward those who are prepared to contribute to a safer society. Complaints that such vaccination certificates will discriminate against the unvaccinated are fatuous. Surely, there is enough sanity left amongst most to recognise that any decision to uphold the health and safety of individuals is the most wonderful form of discrimination of all. Just call it common sense.
How much easier it is to offer nominations for the greatest moments of the Tokyo Olympics than make predictions for the forthcoming US Open! As always, the Olympics produced memorable moments for nations big and small. For those not fascinated by sport, my Top 10 moments are listed below!
Yesterday, Roger Federer turned 40! Common sense tells us that he is unlikely to win a sixth US Open title, having last won the title in 2008. Although forced out of the Olympics through injury, I suspect that the Swiss maestro would have been pleased with the Swiss-German combination of Olympic champions. Neither Belinda Bencic nor Alex Zverev have won a Grand Slam title, but Tokyo crowned them in a different setting. Zverev, runner-up in last year’s US Open must be hoping that his time has come.
Djokovic is everyone’s stumbling block in the Men’s draw. Or is he? His defeats in all events at the Olympics, which culminated in his withdrawal from his Mixed Doubles bronze medal match against Australia’s Ash Barty and John Peers, suggest that Djokovic’s Grand Slam is not the fait accompli that most thought it would be at the end of Wimbledon. What’s the Paul Simon line, sung memorably in his concert with Art Garfunkel in New York’s Central Park? “the nearer your destination, the more you are slip sliding away.” Nadal will strive, sweat and hustle, but his Spanish steps are not as quick as they used to be.
In the Women’s draw one would be foolish to nominate any one player as the favourite, so capricious has the recent history of Women’s Grand Slam tennis been. Serena Williams turns 40 at the end of September; however, New York will not present her a much desired 24th Grand Slam title. After decades of knowing that the top women’s seeds would compete “deep in the second week” of Grand Slam tournaments, there is suddenly no guarantee that most of the highest ranked will survive the first week! Another new normal!
Federer turning 40 is a reminder is that it is 40 years since Charles and Diana married. The nature of their relationship and Diana’s disputed legacy are ongoing debates. The recent unveiling of a statue of Diana on what would have been her 60th birthday added to the polarising narrative. Pity the poor sculptor who was asked to ‘capture’ an image of the people’s princess! Diana’s premature death forever cast her as a young, beautiful and free spirit. To see her cast in stone was always going to be a near impossible and incongruous task.
It is just as incongruous to think we might see Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Serena stumble and fall in the early stages of Grand Slam tournaments. These players are treasures of the tennis world. Is it selfish to ask that they not tarnish the memories of their collective 83 Grand Slam titles?
Let’s enjoy the anticipation and diversion of the New York Grand Slam finale! God knows there is much to occupy us before and after. One senses the full toll of the pandemic in countries such as India and Indonesia will never be truly known. The Taliban, in a nightmarish reprise, are close to regaining control of Afghanistan. Lebanon is close to collapsing into economic and civil anarchy. Cuba is not far behind. Has anyone heard from anyone in Venezuela lately? Many in Barcelona are in distress as Lionel Messi leaves the city’s premier soccer team. Thankfully, Messi’s tears have dried in time for him to sign a contract with Paris St. Germaine.
In Australia, statistics tell us that psychological problems have now surpassed physiological ailments as the dominant concern of patients waiting in the nation’s doctors’ waiting rooms. For better or worse only billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson can “stop the world” and escape for a circuit of space to relieve their anxieties!
If you are worried by Australia’s political stability, then consider the fact that on the opening day of the US Open Scott Morrison will become Australia’s longest serving Prime Minister since John Howard and our fourteenth longest serving PM out of thirty. On that day he will have been our Prime Minister for 3 years and 4 days, moving one day ahead of the length of Julia Gillard’s tenure.
The good news is that we know that as always New York, like all the Grand Slams and the Olympics, will provide us with some “brief, shining moments”, when we delight in the skills and success of others. As was the case in 1969 when Rod Laver, who turns 83 today, won his unmatched second Grand Slam!
Pandemics are an airtight alibi for corny observations, so we look forward to seeing who will be flushed with success at Flushing!
DOWSE’S DEFINING OLYMPIC MOMENTS, IN ADDITION TO THE FACT THAT THEY TOOK PLACE AT ALL!
1. The success of the minnows- athletes from:
Ecuador-Men’s Cycling Road Race-Richard Karapaz,
Tunisia- Men’s 400 metres freestyle-Ahmed Hafnaoui,
Bermuda- Women’s Triathlon-Flora Duffy
Venezuela-Women’s Triple Jump-Yulimar Rojas
and Qatar- Men’s High Jump-Mutaz Barshim
2. Burkina Faso winning its FIRST EVER MEDAL with a bronze in the Men’s triple jump-Hugues Fabrice Zango;
3. The ending of medal droughts. India, a nation of over a billion people won its first athletics gold medal when Neeraj Chopra won the javelin. Australia, after a run of fourth placings in Men’s Basketball wins its first Olympic medal by defeating Slovenia in the bronze medal match;
4. The Italian and Qatari high jumpers who decided to share the gold medal rather than compete in a jump-off- Mutaz Barshim and Gianmarco Tamberi
5. Sifan Hassan- the Ethiopian refugee who settled in the Netherlands at the age of 15, took up running. An incredulous 49 kgs she won bronze in the 1500 metres and gold in the 5000 and 10000 metre events;
6. Eliud Kipchoge-the Kenyan who won the marathon to successfully defend the title he won in Rio de Janeiro five years ago. He is the first athlete to win consecutive marathons since Ethiopia’s Abebe Bikila in 1960 and in Tokyo in 1964;
7. Australia’s Andrew Hoy winning equestrian silver and bronze at the age of 62 in his eighth Olympics at the age of 62;
8.Australia’s Swimming team reviving memories of our golden days of Melbourne; it is always wonderful when a much touted ‘match race’ exceeds expectations, so we will all remember Ariarne Titmus’ (whose formative years were spent in her hometown of Launceston, Tasmania no less!) stirring victory over America’s Katie Ledecky in the 400 metres freestyle;
9.Emma McKeon’s seven medal haul in the pool- four gold, three bronze-that made her Australia’s most successful Olympian with 11 medals. How extraordinary that three women won all the freestyle races: McKeon, 50 and 100 metres, Titmus, 200 and 400 metres and Ledecky 800 and the inaugural 1500 metres. McKeon’s 50/100 metre double was matched by America’s Caleb Dressel who won 5 gold medals in the pool;
10. Australia’s Ashley Moloney winning bronze in the Decathlon. An ‘unknown’ to most, his courageous run in the 1500 metres at the urging of fellow Australian, Cedric Dubler, epitomised the strength of the human spirit. Only 21, Moloney has every chance to become ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ before the 2024 Paris Olympics.