Today in media backlashes…Mia Freedman grossly underestimates the importance of the Tour De France. On the Today show yesterday, the publishing maven gave armchair pundits, cycling enthusiasts and people with Twitter accounts full license to sharpen their tongues/pitchforks after she expressed ambivalence towards Cadel Evans’ Tour De France victory: “I’m the opposite of fired up. I’m fired down. I just don’t care.”. Mr. Patriotism Karl Stefanovic disagreed/mixed metaphors immediately (“what this guy has done is he has climbed Mount Everest of the cycling world.”) as did a vocal contingent of Australia’s cycling community. First via the internet soapbox du jour, snarky Youtube comments, then, in an open letter penned by Australian pro cyclist Bridie O’Donnell.
So then. Was Mia cast as a clueless contrarian to drum up ratings or does she actually have a point? I think we can rule out the former. In a post addressing her comments on Mama Mia.com Freedman backed her claims, saying her main gripe with Cadel’s post-victory fanfare was “the way Australian sportspeople are revered as heroes and worshipped above every other profession.”. It’s a criticism spouted by anyone who has tried to secure arts funding in this country and one which treats the disproportionate salaries and attention paid to Australian sportsmen as a slight on those with more deserving talents (nurses, teachers, social workers, etc). Unless of course, they’re cyclists.
As O’Donnell notes: “for every time you can clamber onto a soapbox to protest the lucrative sponsorship dollars an athlete can reap, think about the other hundreds that do not, or cannot…Remember that an athlete’s body is their mode of income and every single injury, illness, lack of form and mental fatigue costs them income. We make sacrifices, put other aspects of life on hold (like motherhood, owning a car, drinking alcohol on a Saturday night) and we have to constantly navigate uncertainty.”
Road cyclists do not enjoy the million dollar salaries paid to soccer stars and basketball players. In fact, if your role is to selflessly support a superstar (as Cadel’s teammates were asked to), you are the closest thing to a cog as there is in professional sport. These aren’t the self-aggrandizing hedonists of Rugby League. Or the grubby match fixers of cricket. No. This is a professional athlete who overcame injury, frequently donates to charity and just won the most prestigious and grueling road race known to man. Mia’s arguments are wholly undeserving of the vitriol they have attracted (people are entitled to opinions after all, and hers are valid) but for any Australian who sets out to achieve something ambitious or of international import – be that saving lives, curing cancer or winning the Tour De France – nothing short of hero can define their accomplishments.