“Whatever it takes”

Tim Costello muses on the Ashes, Essendon Football Club, and whether there's something truer about sport than the desire to win at all costs.

I am a lifelong Essendon Football Club tragic. A decade ago, our club motto was “Whatever it takes” – and we were heavily sanctioned for using an experimental drug program and labelled cheats. A decade on, the scars are only just healing.

I am also an Ashes tragic and have lost a lot of sleep over the last six weeks. Before the series, I would have glibly said I want to retain or win the Ashes at any cost. And we have retained them – thanks in part to the Manchester weather.

I’m pleased and relieved, but what is this whispering in my soul? Again the cry of “cheats” has gone up from the English crowds. Bairstow was clearly dismissed within the rules, but the word cheat has triggered me.

At Essendon, a hollow culture formed around that slogan “Whatever it takes”. That is not true of our Test team, but I reflect on my desire to win the Ashes at any price. I do not feel elated now. The Aussie players have been subdued also.

I wonder about a parallel universe where Pat Cummins called Bairstow back. I reflect on our pride in Adam Gilchrist, still revered for his integrity because he would walk and not wait to be given out. The biggest press conference of my life was in Mumbai, standing with Adam when he was a Test player and World Vision Ambassador. The Indian press pack were in awe of not just his cricket but his character, and listened intently as he spoke about India needing to step up and care for their poor.

I am very competitive myself. (Ask my adult sons about our current tennis matches.) But I can only quieten this whispering when there is something truer and more transcendent about sport than “Whatever it takes”.

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