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Soup of This Day #91: It’s The Luck Of The Draw

October 30, 2011

Teatro Olimpico, Vicenza, Veneto
Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico with Scamozzi’s on-stage trompe-l’œil scenery giving the impression of streets stretching off in to the distance – Photo: Tango7174, 2007. Tango7174 is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

This is not an angry post. It’s important that I state that now because at times this might appear to be an angry post but really it’s not. It’s a trompe l’oeil work on a courtyard wall, an illusion -There is no anger here, damn it!

Qantas is Australia’s national airline. We have others but Qantas is the 1 that everyone associates with us. It has a giant kangaroo on the tails of it’s aircraft so really it’s as Australian as it gets. And we’re by-and-large proud of it. There’s a scene in Rainman where autistic Ray (Dustin Hoffman) doesn’t want to fly. His brother Charlie (Tom Cruise) suggests airlines that they can take but Ray associates a crash with each 1. Exasperated, Charlie states that all airlines have crashes. ‘Qantas’, interjects Ray, ‘Qantas never crashed.’ Dustin Hoffman won an Oscar for that role but a lot of Australians remember it largely for that line. You see, we’re a little self-conscious and our airline has never crashed, at least not with fatalities.

That’s something you want in an airline – Not killing passengers and all.

What you don’t want in an airline is for it to suddenly ground it’s entire fleet of 108 planes affecting an estimated 80,000 travelers world wide. Which is what Qantas just did. I’m guessing if you’re reading this in a terminal and you are, or more correctly were, a Qantas passenger, then your anger is less trompe l’oeil and a little more visceral right now. This is partly because most don’t like to be stuck in an airport, far from home or a holiday or business or family (I said ‘most’, some have family members that they’d like to be stuck in an airport far away). I guess this would be a little easier to stomach if the cause of the grounding was an act of god. It’s not though – No, there’s no pesky Chilean volcano in play here, or a mechanical fault or even a financial crisis. Nope this grounding can best be described by Richard Woodward, the President of the Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA):

‘Mr Joyce [Qantas CEO] is stranding thousands of Qantas passengers all across the globe so he can engage in his mad game of one-upmanship. All so he can pursue his delusion that Qantas should be an Asian airline, instead of an Australian one.’

Yep, Qantas grounded it’s fleet because it is playing labour dispute chicken with unions, including the AIPA. It wants to re-position Qantas as a South-East Asian based airline. This means local job cuts with outsourcing and as the unions argue, a lesser quality standard. Ray might not be able to name a crashless airline when Rainman is remade.

From an outsider’s point of view there is some substance to this but I’m not siding wholly with the unions here – For there to be a game of one-upmanship there kinda needs to be 2 sides one-upping each other and the unions have been playing their part, via a succession of rolling strikes by engineers, baggage handlers, cabin crew, pilots – Pretty much everyone bar John Travolta. John is Qantas’ celebrity goodwill ambassador and a big fan of The Flying Kangaroo. His refurbished 707-138 is decked out in Qantas colours and he once famously offered to fly the Socceroos (sponsored by Qantas) to the 2006 World Cup in Germany. He also made Look Who’s Talking Too which I think cancels out his good football work. Let’s hope that the in-flight movie wasn’t that because, forget snakes on a plane Samuel, you’d seriously try to get the door open at 20,000 feet if stuck with that @#$%.

It’s now time to segue across into the world of sport and the behemoth that is the NBA. The NBA is a little like Qantas in that it has a powerful brand, Dustin Hoffman is a fan and there is a bit of a labour dispute going on right now that has left passengers (fans) stuck in limbo. The owners think the players are paid too much, which everyone bar the players can agree on. The players think the owners are getting too much, which everyone bar the owners can agree on. The result of this divide has been an at least partially truncated season, with 200 games cancelled so far and no end in sight.

In the short-term the fans are the losers, much like the passengers stuck in terminals around the world. There are no games or flights with the chosen brands. Longer term though and the losers will be whittled down to the players and unions on 1 side and the owners and management on the other. Brands have suffered damage, have ceded a part of the market and in the business world when your brand loses market share then the law of the street says that someone else will step in. For Qantas, locally Virgin has already gleefully ridden to the rescue, while the international bigguns will be eying off previously nonviable routes with glee. For the NBA, the NFL will be cracking a smile (They had strikes in 1974, 82, 87 and earlier this year, resulting in a CBA that stretches through to 2021) while the NHL will seek to pull back fans that they lost via labour lockouts in 1994/95 (Season reduced from 84 to 48 games) and 2004/2005 (Season wholly cancelled, a 1st for US sport). Some fans will even go so far as to turn their backs on the corporate greed that mars professional sport and will turn to local leagues – Some will already be drooling at the prospect of March Madness, the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship, where raw college outfits play the game like they mean it and are expected to study, learn and give back to the community at the same time. Sure they won’t make every play like a metronome but they also won’t post video about the clothes that the football club they invested in has just sent them – Personally LeBron as a minimum I’d wait until I won something before I got that far up my own arse anyway.

And so we’re back to the trompe l’oeil on the wall in the courtyard. It’s painted beautifully and it looks great, if you squint just so then you can believe for an instant that there is a timeless green meadow beyond. But just for an instant. Because when it comes down to serious analysis what we’re lookng at is an illusion, a thin veneer of paint that is all artful construct. Qantas is that thin veneer, no longer the quintessential Australian with the impeccable reliability. It’s rivals, the unions, are a shallow layer too, their interests vested in personal enrichment.

This lack of depth, of substance is also apparent in the upper echelons of professional sport. The NBA, MLB, EPL, AFL, etc. sell us a brand. For Liverpool FC and the Red Sox it’s about loyalty, class, history and inclusiveness and for the most part we buy it – Contrast the fan turn out for Rays home games at Tropicana Field with the inevitable Fenway sellout.

You could even contrast that Tropicana Rays turnout with the Tropicana Sox turnout.

The Nation is the Sox. Liverpool FC fans are an equivalent – Their ethos centred around those Oscar Hammerstein lyrics – ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ – And you don’t. With their side trailing 0-3 at halftime in the 2005 Champions League Final in Istanbul, the Liverpool faithful chanted ‘We’re gonna win 4-3’. Nothing unusual in that defiance except that they meant it, believed in it because if you support Liverpool you don’t walk alone. Increasingly though it feels like we’re scratching at the veneer and finding bare concrete beneath.

Yesterday I was out for a drive with The Noah in the back having himself a very necessary nap. I’d got him to sleep on the Mitchell Freeway and by the time I’d passed through the centre of Perth was in danger of needing some shut-eye myself. At the least I needed a break and in South Perth, just across from Perth Zoo I found 1. There are a couple of cricket ovals there and there were 2 lazy spring games in progress as I pulled up. In the end I wound down the windows, turned down the Winnie the Pooh soundtrack to a background burble and got to feel the gentle sea breeze and to hear the unmistakeable sound of a small leather ball meeting a willow bat. That sound for those who haven’t heard it is kind of a crack combined with a solid and woody tock – I call it a thwarck. Feel free to use that.

So there we were, The Slumbering Noah and his over-the-corporate-greed Dad – No labour disputes or paychecks – Just a roadtrip with amateur sport and windows that have stuff on the other side.

This is why I love sport.

It’s The Luck Of The Draw

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