There are times when tributes are appropriate, and others just seem out of line. During the Australia Day celebrations, the Australian Prime Minister, without consulting any within his own party or executive leadership, announced that Prince Philip (Duke of Edinburgh) was to receive the highest honour, the Order of Australia. There has been much speculation as to why, and certainly much disagreement about the choice. Majority of people, including many loyal monarchists, have at best thought the decision odd. Others indifferent to Australia becoming a republic, have reconsidered their perspective and see this as un-Australian and requiring a shift in their philosophical and political emphasis.
In stark contrast, were the many tributes made after the passing of Australian cricketer Phil Hughes following his freakish and tragic accident from a cricket ball leading to his untimely and premature death. Tributes flowed in about the young mans talent, his joy of playing in the baggy green, and his infectious humour and goodwill across his team mates and opponents alike.
In contrast to the confusion and condemnation towards Tony Abbotts actions and words with his tribute to Phil, Michael Clarke (Aussie test skipper) was applauded for his exemplary leadership, poise and heartfelt empathy shown towards his team mate and dear friend.
I’m a coach of a basketball team of teenagers, most of whom love their cricket but no longer play. At the first opportunity we gathered the team, spoke about paying tribute to Phil, and took to the court with our opposition for a minutes silence. Each of the boys scribed #408 onto their left arms (in place of black arm bands) and some even brought along cricket bats and stood them beside the court. It was a fitting tribute to someone who loved playing sport, and who paid the ultimate price for something they loved doing.
The solidarity of tributes across sporting codes reflected a deeper value – no matter what your sport, no matter what level you play at, sport unites. Well for most anyway. There was one parent who remarked that this border-lined on idolatry and was over-the-top. I’m aware this person never played a team sport and has a tendency to super-spiritualise things. This parent, much like our Prime Minister missed the point.
Paying tribute is important. Doing so in a respect-full and meaning-full way is equally so. Paying tribute is something that pays honour to a person, for their character, their conduct and their contribution to their community. In the case of Phil Hughes, this crossed sporting codes and country boundaries. In the case of the Prince, well Tony just got it totally wrong.