On Tuesday, Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced while on a state visit to New Delhi that Sachin Tendulkar would be made an honorary Member of the Order of Australia. My discussion continues following this clip from SNTV Online:
Tendulkar is without doubt the biggest name in world cricket in the past quarter-century and has produced many memorable batting performances against Australia ever since his first tour to this country as an eighteen year-old in 1991-92. He is much loved throughout the cricket world. Yet on Wednesday morning, the Australian media is full of outrage. Online polls have been set up and, for all their lack of science, are running in the negative.
How can such a seemingly safe and popular decision be so controversial?
From the comments and feedback I have seen in the past eighteen hours since the Prime Minister made the announcement, I believe the reasons for dissent can be placed into three categories:
- Mistrust and rejection of everything Julia Gillard does and says;
- Belief that Australian awards should only go to Australians;
- Continuing ill-feeling over the "Monkeygate" episode surrounding the Sydney Test of 2008.
The first two I believe can be easily dealt with, the third less so. Political discourse in Australia over the past couple of years has become so toxic that everything the Prime Minister says can, and often is, viewed from a diametrically opposite perspective - her speech in Federal Parliament last week decrying sexism and misogyny being one of the better-known examples. Many Australians have switched off from Julia Gillard, whether or not this is justifiable is a case for a lengthy discussion in itself.
The second argument ignores the fact that honours under the Order of Australia are routinely given on an honorary basis to non-Australians, as are overseas awards given to Australians. But there's also a disturbing undertone of xenophobia to what I read and hear today. This unfortunately is a symptom of a much bigger problem in Australia at the moment.
The third argument is less easy to dismiss. The episode rather distastefully tagged these days as "Monkeygate", in which Harbhajan Singh faced, and was ultimately acquitted of, charges of racial vilification of Andrew Symonds during the Sydney Test in January 2008. This was a sorry and badly-handled episode from which barely anyone can emerge with credit, and Tendulkar's intervention in Harbhajan's defence, justified or not, left a sour taste with many Australians.
Irredeemably so? That's the question here. I believe that this episode is one from under which we should have already drawn the line and moved on. No one's suggesting (I hope) that Ricky Ponting AO and Matthew Hayden AM should hand in their medals over "Monkeygate", are they?
Tendulkar has also been damned in the past day for his aloofness and failure to engage with the media or even his fans. On those measures, there would be scant justification for even The Don himself being showered with honours.
Another argument I have seen frequently presented is that Australia is honouring a batsman who scored thousands of runs against us and on many occasions beat our bowlers into submission. How, then, do we justify the past honours to Clive Lloyd, Garfield Sobers and Brian Lara?
The truth is, there's nothing out of the ordinary in the Australian, or any, government giving an honorary medal to a prominent foreign identity. This award quite possibly is an act of diplomatic sycophancy - especially now that Tendulkar is a member of the Indian parliament - but we should either decry the entire practice worldwide or live with it. But please not go selectively feral over one instance that happens to reach the evening news.
To me, it's quite embarrassing as an Australian to see negative reaction to Tendulkar's honour being presented overseas. It's absurd to think that Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar should be demonised for receiving the same honour given to less deserving Australians.