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Sporting image goes down under
(from top) McGrath, Hewitt, Philippoussis capped a month of Australian ill-temper in the sporting arena

Sydney: Australia’s image as a world leader in sports has taken a battering this month with a series of ill-tempered displays by some of the country’s best-known names.

Hardly a month goes by when Australians are not crowing about another major success but there has been little bragging about the ugly and undignified actions of the past few weeks.

Wimbledon champion Lleyton Hewitt led the way when he threw a tantrum during a tennis tournament in Germany and berated an umpire after a line call went against him.

“Go back to the Satellites, mate. You go back to the Satellites and learn the rules where you belong,” Hewitt screeched at the official at the Hamburg Masters.

Veteran fast bowler Glenn McGrath joined in the act with a petulant outburst against Ramnaresh Sarwan after the West Indian cricketer had smashed him all over the park.

McGrath made a lewd remark about Sarwan during the fourth Test in Antigua, then began screaming abuse, poking his finger at him and threatening to “rip out” his throat when Sarwan made an equally distasteful reply.

McGrath later apologised to Sarwan and promised to control his temper in the future but the incident ruined what should have been a triumphant series win for the Australians.

Former Somerset captain turned cricket journalist Peter Roebuck wrote: “The Australians have done nothing to enhance their reputations as sportsmen.

“Cricket searched for a champion team and found only an unscrupulous aggressor.”

Hewitt’s Davis Cup teammate Mark Philippoussis continued the run of men behaving badly when he smashed his racket after losing to Argentine Guillermo Coria in Hamburg.

Then New South Wales Waratahs rugby union prop Matt Dunning broke a teammate’s nose during a drunken fight outside a Sydney nightclub.

Dunning had been lampooned by sections of the Australian media for kicking a drop-goal in his team’s Super 12 win over New Zealand’s Chiefs when the Waratahs needed a try to earn a bonus point to get into the playoffs.

“I went through a lot after the game and... I think it all got to me,” he explained.

Most ordinary Australians have been horrified by the behaviour of their sports heroes with talk-back radio and newspaper letters columns filled with people condemning their actions.

But not everyone seems overly concerned. McGrath found an unlikely ally in Australian Prime Minister John Howard who defended his actions while Australia’s non-playing Davis Cup captain John Fitzgerald brushed off Hewitt’s tantrum as acceptable behaviour.

“I think he’s just getting his competitive juices flowing for the French Open,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s just competing and, you know what, you have to be yourself, you have to compete.”

Newspaper columnists and psychologists have warned that Australia risks breeding a generation of sore losers and bad sports because of the public’s obsession with winning and willingness to forgive their flag-bearers anything as long they perform well.

No better example of this came than last Friday when John Hopoate made his return to representative rugby league.

Hopoate was banned from playing in 2001 when he embarked on a crude campaign of sticking his fingers up his opponent’s backsides in an attempt to distract them from the game. But, now, he is back in favour.

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