Communist Party of Australia

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Issue #1614      October 16, 2013

Private schools buy sport stars, line their pockets

Many TV viewers realised with astonishment recently that the official US America’s Cup entry was skippered by an Australian, that the rest of the crew came from various countries (including Australia and New Zealand), but that only one was actually a US citizen. Many of the components of the yacht were even made in New Zealand!

The reason for this extraordinary state of affairs is that the America’s Cup authorities seem to regard the contest as one where the competing nations pay for the best crew members and resources, regardless of their place of birth or origin.

The idea that sporting contests should involve the best each nation can muster within its own borders, seems to have been completely dumped as a matter of commercial convenience.

Mind you, examples of this trend are available more readily with regard to sport in Sydney’s wealthiest private schools, paradoxically called the “great public schools” (GPS).

First buy your student …

Some Sydney private schools have been accused of effectively buying students who perform well at sport from other schools, by offering them scholarships or bursaries.

One teacher who has taught at both private and public schools told Fairfax Media that within 24 hours of the announcement of a junior state basketball squad, coaches from certain schools ring the families of the team members, offering the boys special places.

Tim Hawkes, headmaster of Kings School at Paramatta noted ironically, “Professionalism in school sport is creeping in as inevitably as bindies in a lawn.”

David Kirk, captain of the Rugby World Cup winning rugby team, has described the US-style competition to recruit sports-talented students as a sports “arms race” in which the schools “aggressively recruit and provide scholarships to the best rugby players they can find. … this has severely and probably irrevocably undermined the integrity of the GPS First XV rugby competition.”

Lila Mularczyk, President of the NSW Secondary Principals Council, has asked private schools to stop offering special scholarships to state school students. She said: “It is unnecessary and unfair. It is not to the benefit of any school community when particular students are targeted away from that system.”

Scots College, one of the wealthiest schools in Australia, is said to have received more than $5 million in government funding in 2011 last year, a sum thereby denied to state schools, while at the same time it offered scholarships to students from state schools, which were thus deprived of some of their best sports talent.

Five private schools have refused to organise basketball or rugby league matches with teams from Scots College, accusing it of having broken the private schools ethics code with regard to the offering of scholarships to talented students from other schools.

… then fatten him up

Scots College is also under a cloud because the school had accepted a rugby tournament scholarship from a sports nutrition company whose products promise “explosive gains in muscle size and strength”.

Its current director of sports science, Tenzing Tsewang, was a close associate of Stephen Dank, now under investigation by the Australian Sports Anti-doping Authority, which is investigating the Australian Football League and the National Rugby League regarding the alleged supply of performance-enhancing drugs.

Three years ago the Scots College basketball team tied with another school to come equal last in the GPS championship. However, since then they have won every premiership, and have also leapt to prominence in football and other sports. However, they deny that their astonishing success had anything to do with scholarships, and have refused to discuss the matter further, on the grounds of privacy.

Tim Hawkes commented: “Good sport is generative, it teaches that success is seldom achieved without effort … But … when sport becomes an industry to support dodgy betting, when it breeds an illicit drug culture, when it encourages on-field thuggery and off-field debauchery, sport loses its value.

“… (It’s) unfair … when victory is not warranted by virtue of honest endeavour; or when winning occurs through the exploitation of advantage not accessible to others.”

However, the exploitation of advantage that’s not accessible to others is the prime characteristic of the wealthy private school system. Says Tim Hawkes: “A victory purchased through imported talent; that leaves the home-grown boy a spectator at the finals is a tawdry victory, unworthy of its name.”

Long-term students and their parents certainly agree with him. Some have launched public attacks in the mass media on the school’s sports policies,

According to Fairfax media, a parent of one student has claimed that the Scots’ principal, Ian Lambert, “decided they should win a basketball tournament, so they went out and basically bought an entire team with scholarships and dumped the team that should have been in the firsts.

“It was the most appalling way to manage students and to force fee-paying parents to subsidise the quest of one person.”

Another parent has stated that his complaint to school authorities about his son’s treatment was met with the brutal response: “This is the program, take it or leave it.”

The end result of the school’s sports policies may be that the school’s profit level actually drops as parents transfer their children to other schools.

Meanwhile, Tim Hawkes himself has admitted that the practice of buying sporting talent is long-standing and widespread. He commented:

“ … most leading independent schools offer a few inducements to gifted sportsmen. I think it has ever been thus, and has occurred with sufficient regularity, and to a similar level in most schools to be tolerated. However, every now and again one or two schools go over the top. This results in them needing to be brought into line.”

But that’s totally inconsistent with the GPs code of ethics, which unequivocally prohibits the practice of offering inducements “whether direct, disguised or at arm’s length.” It states: “Care should be taken to exclude from our schools practices which place the pursuit of victory above those aspects of sport concerned with enjoyment, balanced development and good sportsmanship.”

The practice of offering inducements reflects the corporate mentality that a business must do whatever it can get away with to achieve profit maximisation. That mentality is endemic in the wealthy private schools, which despite their collective name have always sought to line their nests at the taxpayers’ expense, and probably always will, certainly under conservative governments.

To paraphrase on old saying: “Can the leopard change its spots, or the unrighteous education system its ways?”

Next article – Cat out of the bag on education

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