Australian cultural populism in sport: The relationship between sport (notably cricket) and cultural populism in Australia

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Eleanor Armstrong


Australia, National identity, Sport, Cricket, Cultural populism, Popular culture, Politics, Cultural identity


The way ‘mainstream’ Australians see themselves is characterised by key polarities, defined according to what popular culture allows and prohibits at the same time. Sport becomes a vehicle through which those with nationalistic leanings express their adherence to sentimental ideas of a bigger Australian story. However, this outlet—originally conceived in outback stations—is not available to all classes, races, and genders. Traditionally in the past, one was only allowed to fully participate if one was lower class, white, and male. This contradicts the oft-touted idea that sport has the ability to bring ‘the people’ together, a sentiment which is criticised by the intellectual elite. Cricket represents an interesting case study, due to its roots in both British imperialism and its adaptation into Australian cultural mythology. It highlights how a relaxed and enjoyable ‘game’ can take on patriotic qualities that originate in ideals of bushrangers and mateship. As witnessed in recent ball-tampering scandals, cricket and sport more broadly are utilised by the media and politicians to define what being ‘Australian’ means. This usually reflects their own respective imperatives, whether that be to create divides in the community or promote unity through shared identity. Based primarily on insights shared by Peter Goodall in High culture, popular culture: The long debate (1995), this paper charts the historical origins of Australians’ relationship with sport in broader popular culture to demonstrate that the way cultural populism is carried out within the entertainment sector is no coincidence, due to commonly inherited historical scripts. It also has implications for minority groups and their inclusion in national identity. While sport brings us together and has obvious wellbeing benefits, it also has the capacity to be manipulated by populists.

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