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Monday Message Board

August 30th, 2004

It’s time for the Monday Message Board, where readers are invited to post their thoughts on any topic (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). There will doubtless be plenty of posts from me on the election, and plenty of room for discussion, so I’d encourage Message Board comments on other issues.

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  1. James Farrell
    August 30th, 2004 at 11:46 | #1

    If we want to know who really won the Olympics, the correct adjustment is to divide the medal tally by GDP. The following table includes only countries who obtained at least four gold medals (which excludes flukes), and is scaled by Australian GDP (so the index tells us how much each country would have had won if they had the same resources as Australia to devote to sport). I can’t figure out how to do a table in this box, so it’s comma delimited.

    Country, Gold Medals, Index

    Cuba, 9, 120.06
    Ukraine, 9, 88.79
    Romania, 8, 71.67
    Hungary, 8, 49.78
    Russia, 27, 31.90
    Greece, 6, 18.50
    Australia, 17, 17.00
    Norway, 5, 10.75
    China, 32, 10.35
    South Korea, 9, 7.73
    Sweden, 4, 6.81
    Netherlands, 4, 3.92
    Brazil, 4, 3.62
    Italy, 10, 3.46
    France, 11, 3.15
    Germany, 14, 2.89
    Great Britain, 9, 2.35
    Japan, 16, 1.64
    United States, 35, 1.38

  2. Richard
    August 30th, 2004 at 14:07 | #2

    James

    While GDP must bear some relationship to the resources available for training, isn’t it likely that population size would have something to do with the probability of a particular country having athletes with very high levels of strength, endurance, reflexes, coordination etc? I don’t have the time to do it, but a comparison based on some combination of population size and GDP would also be interesting. Perhaps there’s a nature vs nurture argument to be explored here: is elite athletic success attributable mostly to natural abilities or to the amount/level/expense of training?

  3. Warbo
    August 30th, 2004 at 14:53 | #3

    That’s a really interesting exercise, James. I wonder how the table would look if you did the same thing except with per capita GDP or income (whichever is the more meaningful).

  4. Tony Healy
    August 30th, 2004 at 15:05 | #4

    It’s interesting that we have a poor showing in athletics, being ranked 26 on absolute terms. Ethiopa’s at number 5. Our swimming and cycling are at rank 1 and 2. What’s the sociological reason for that, I wonder.

  5. Peter Murphy
    August 30th, 2004 at 15:09 | #5

    James,

    To be fair, you probably have to weigh in the climate. Most capital cities are snow-free the year around. This is essential for training. Canada has roghly the same GDP and even a higher population, but it’s a lot colder. That explains their pitiful medal tally this year. On the other hand, snow helps you with the Winter Olympics, so a reverse weighing could be useful there.

  6. observa
    August 30th, 2004 at 15:31 | #6

    Conventional wisdom among anti-Howardists has it that he/his govt is so tainted by lies that it should be obvious to all that he must go.

    Now in judging a litany of dishonesty, has this conventional wisdom been brought about by the sheer weight/number of lies, or more simply because of the long tailed choice of policy, over which major disagreement has occurred between the parties? The major disagreements have occurred over GST, treatment of boat arrivals and Iraq. Now it could be said that ‘never ever’ was a lie with regards GST, but the policy was put to the electorate and may simply be seen as a flip flop, in the same way as abandoning rollback. We then have the kids overboard lie on illegals and the WMD lie on Iraq.

    Now all these policy positions were long tailed ones and involved like debates over long time spans. Many conflicting misconceptions/lies and incorrect analyses were also trotted out by their opponents. What is the state of play now? Well firstly the GST is widely accepted as successful both in implementation and economic result, as well as providing a healthy dividend for state premiers now. Excision and detention of boat arrivals is also now bipartisan policy, but accusations still stand on ‘kids overboard’. As far as WMD goes, 3 separate Anglo enquiries could not show their leaders saucing up or lying about intelligence on this. Iraq itself remains a work in progress which may ultimately beg the historical question if a reasonable civil democratic Iraq eventually emerges- Was intervention justified, despite the lack of WMD?

    Is the conventional wisdom of a lying, deceitful govt correct, or has it unfairly been the victim of its long tailed policy positions on which it has fought? Is the lying/deceit and backflips by opponents of these 3 policies, more easily forgotten over those of the incumbents? Perhaps that is what this election is really about?

  7. Steve
    August 30th, 2004 at 16:36 | #7

    On the gold medal issue,

    The Australian Bureau of Statistics provides a population per gold medal table here.

    Bahamas first, Norway second, Australia third.

    As JQ discussed in a previous post i think, isn’t the best measure $ spent on sport per gold medal?
    And you could compare that to GDP to see how sport-obsessed we are.

  8. Mark Gilbert
    August 30th, 2004 at 16:44 | #8

    Who won the Olympics? It’s a nice table James, and it’s brought out interesting comments on the complexity of judging the overall winners. One thing we can be sure of is that it’s not certainly not mankind.
    Another important factor I’d suggest is that not all gold medals are equally challenging to win. I’m sure they can’t be but I don’t know how to prove it or measure it.

    Observa, I don’t agree with the suggestions in your comment. But I don’t really want to comment on it other than to say that it irritates me when people use the phrase ‘begs the question’ as a sophisticated sounding way of saying ‘asks the question’, when it really means ‘avoids the question’. There’s been a bit too much begging of questions already, we don’t need to look forward to more of it.
    Interesting comments though.

  9. John Quiggin
    August 30th, 2004 at 16:57 | #9

    Mark, at least in traditional logic “begging the question” refers to the kind of circular argument in which the proposition to be proved is taken as an assumption (see here). However, “avoids the question” is a legitimate generalization, while “raises the question” is not, I think.

  10. Blair S. Fairman
    August 30th, 2004 at 17:36 | #10

    At least we were the most succesful nation in the Southern Hemisphere… When all else fails, split the world in half.

  11. August 30th, 2004 at 19:04 | #11

    Maybe we should divide it by the amount of performance enhancing drugs each athlete took… or something…

  12. August 30th, 2004 at 22:17 | #12

    Swimming and bikes.

    I think the bike thing might have something to do with the fact that we don’t concentrate much on true road racing (even though the lads do it, they are essentially specialists in the broader framework) and sheer ruthlessness.

    Swimming – all those pools glittering in the early morning. Now, to test this, here is another question: over the last five olympics, which Australian STATES got the highest swimming medals tally expressed as a function of where the athletes started training?

    If its the north of the country, then we are talking climate.

  13. Jill Rush
    August 30th, 2004 at 22:30 | #13

    The Olympics I saw induced a feeling of awe at the skills demonstrated by the athletes.

    I learned a lot about Volleyball and table tennis thanks to SBS and enjoyed the skewed view of the The Dream commentary.

    That Australia almost won the bronze medal overall made me think about the funds that are going into elite sport as opposed to everyday competition.

    What a shame that participative sportspeople can’t get the same level of funding as those who have talent/access/parental support. Whilst most of us battle obesity, kidney disease, diabetes etc there are millions being spent on winning those medals. It is a strange set of values that promotes watching sport and winning for the country over keeping the nation healthy.

    Perhaps Observa it is the same set of values which will decide that health and education are not as important as increasing housing costs because of low interest rates, negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions. My rates have skyrocketed – only because of the activities of speculators who have been able to gouge buyers because of low interest rates. It will be interesting to see if the majority agrees that the end justifies the means. With the Olympics it would appear to be so – as long as the athletes can avoid getting caught using creative means.

  14. Brian Bahnisch
    August 31st, 2004 at 00:24 | #14

    David, I don’t have the figures, but I’m pretty sure they’d show that Qld has been over-represented in swimming for decades. Also in the present team Petrea Thomas is Mullimbimby, which is about as far north as you can go in NSW.

    There is a problem in the population analyses, because countries like the USA can’t have any more competitors in an event than we can. If they could, they’d pick up a lot more minor medals because of their greater depth of talent, but it wouldn’t affect the gold.

    It could be argued that many of our finest athletes (especially Southerners) play non-Olympic sports like AFL.

  15. Peter F.
    August 31st, 2004 at 02:14 | #15

    David,
    I am very confident that your suspicion about the northern States over-representation in swimming would be confirmed, although I have no statistics to hand. This was even more true in the past, when heated indoor pools were unavailable to most (all?) of the population. Climate also impacted on Australia’s relative world position in swimming in say the 1950s and 1960s (and I presume earlier than that), as other prospective competing countries were disadvantaged by lack of facilities which would compensate for Australia’s climate benefit.
    This was also significant in Australia’s dominance in tennis the immediate post-war (i.e. WWII) decades. Since tennis has become a game accessible to significant numbers of people in a very large number of countries, the game has become ferociously competitive, and Australia has had long periods of mediocre performance (currently quite pronounced in the women’s game).
    Brian, I find your observations on almost all topics thoughtful and constructive. However, as a southerner can I gently chide you about the northern description of the greatest game, which drives me insane. It is Australian Football or (colloquially) Aussie Rules. AFL is the organising body – which tries hard to muck things up. Describing the sport as AFL is the equivalent of saying NRL rather than Rugby League, Super 12 rather than Rugby Union or Premiership/Champions League instead of Soccer or Football. Your observation about southerners being lost to international sports , because of the popularity of football is also on the money.

  16. Tony Healy
    August 31st, 2004 at 07:23 | #16

    That might be an interesting state-based difference in terminology. I originate from Victoria and know the difference between real football and English imports, yet happily use “AFL” to refer to the game. It’s a convenient way to make it clear we’re not talking about the others.

    Also, New South Welshmen consider the use of the “rugby” prefix to be redundant when talking about League and Union.

  17. Blair Fairman
    August 31st, 2004 at 10:51 | #17

    I would have to agree with Peter about this. When I played up until a couple of years ago, it was Aussie Rules as there was no way I was at AFL standard (although I did sit on the bench to the same standard as some AFL players).

  18. Tony Healy
    August 31st, 2004 at 13:40 | #18

    Are you talking from within Victoria though? In NSW, it’s not the dominant football, and this may have created a different terminology. Also, a lot of exposure in NSW has been marketing driven, and thus associated with AFL as a name.

  19. Peter F
    August 31st, 2004 at 16:07 | #19

    Yes, Tony, I am a Victorian, and I understand that my view is Victorian- (or perhaps Southern State-) centric. I’m also aware of how the AFL has made its marketing pitch (to the heathen States)in terms of what I continue to regard as a misnomer.
    However, I recall seeing a wonderful confirmation of my prejudice on a bumper sticker on a truck in the grounds of the Uni of NSW circa 1974. “Be Australian Play Aussie Rules”. There was no comparable sticker visible south of the Barassi line (immortalised by Ian Turner, as a geographic boundary running through the Riverina, just north of Wagga Wagga, through the ACT etc.)

  20. Tony Healy
    August 31st, 2004 at 19:13 | #20

    “Heathen states” is very apt. Even as we speak, the great unwashed are probably wondering who or what the Barassi Line is named after.

  21. Brian Bahnisch
    August 31st, 2004 at 19:17 | #21

    Sorry about the AFL, Peter F. For me it was probably a shorthand way of writing. Whether it is creeping in here in speech I’m not sure. Certainly “Aussie rules” is totally understandable and is probably the commonest way of referring to it.

    Changing the topic to the weather, it is trying to rain here today. So far our rain guage shows 1.5mm and a huge spider that has built a perfectly safe (from flooding) nest in the guage.

    I heard the other day that the large high pressure systems floating across the continent have been located about 500 km further south in recent years, pushing lows, fronts etc further south.

    I think this was stated as a world-wide trend, but I’m not sure whether she meant just the southern hemisphere. I thought it was due, not to global warming as such, but to the ozone hole and a consequent tightening of systems around the pole. This is keeping the Antarctic ice sheet cool, for which we should all be thankful.

    Does any-one know what’s happening in the northern hemisphere? The Arctic sea ice has been diminishing at the rate of knots last I heard. The Greenland ice sheet is the other really big one after Antarctica.

  22. Pat
    September 1st, 2004 at 19:05 | #22

    What has gone unremarked in the last couple of weeks is the report by the AMA about the high morbidity rates and the range of illnesses and other poor health indicators suffered by Indigenous Australians, and the Australian Government’s, (Howard and his Health Minister, in particular) monumental waste of the Indigenous health dollar, and their failure to achieve stated outcomes. Those were the very same criteria Howard, Vanstone, and Ruddock used to argue that ATSIC be abolished.

    Not a single bleat from a single media source, never mind any of the usual suspects in the commentator camps.

  23. Robin Hood
    September 2nd, 2004 at 19:23 | #23

    John Howard has today pronounced himself as thick skinned, thus disqualifying himself from suitability to lead this great nation.

    As one who likes to try and think a bit beyond appearances and into the substance of things, I’m afraid I can’t subscribe to the idea of “winning the olympics” as commonly conceived. Any country who participated is a winner. Probably the biggest “losers” are those countries who devoted the largest share of GDP to each medal won, since the money could have been spent in a large number of more productive and humanitarian ways.

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