After my column this week noting that the case of Maria Sharapova seemed to fit somewhere between "outright cheating" and "total innocence", and needed a penalty to reflect that – a two year ban, with six months suspended – I took a little flak. Several readers suggested that I was beguiled by Sharapova's beauty with one asserting that if she resembled a female Eastern Bloc shotputter with a moustache that Merv Hughes would be proud of, I would have been without mercy. My point, in reply, is that – while yes, it had not escaped my attention that Sharapova could indeed grace a catwalk – in the latter case we could see a clear link between the illicit drugs and the resultant physical form. In the case of the Russian, there is no such obvious link, and what she was doing was legal up until three weeks before she was doing it, so prima facie, whatever the drug meldonium was doing for her wasn't too extreme? What she seems most guilty of, for me, is breathtaking stupidity. She "didn't click the link", which informed her it was now banned. Simply stunning. And not in a good way. The drug in question is meant to improve circulation to the brain. Can we all agree there was NO sign of that?
Ban the honorific
Plays of the Week
From last gasp heroics to Rio dreaming, these are the most exciting, silly and downright crazy plays in the sport world this week.
TFF writes from Melbourne, where an interesting stink is developing in the horse racing world. It is led by state Liberal MP Wendy Lovell, who has called on Racing Minister Martin Pakula to end the practice of specifically identifying female jockeys by putting "Ms" before their name, while the male jockeys don't have a "Mr".
"The use of the honorific is not only draconian, it is also demeaning to these enormously talented professional jockeys," Lovell thundered in Parliament. "Almost four months after Michelle [Payne's win in the Melbourne Cup] and her inspirational speech in which she reminded us how chauvinistic the 'Sport of Kings' is, the 'Ms' is still being used before the names of female jockeys in the form guide." The obvious inference is that sexist punters who want to not back horses with female jockeys should not be given the info to allow them to engage in their sexism. This makes sense to me. A reader, however, who clearly understands racing like I don't, says, that if you believe the honorific really is driving sexist punters away that means that "every horse with a female jockey is over the odds. Instead of whinging and trying to change the barbarians, just back the female jockeys and make your fortune. C'mon feminists – put your money where your mouth is!"
Amusing, but unsustainable. The only way forward is to treat the male and female jockeys the same. The sports editor of The Age, Chloe Saltau, agrees. I am not sure what we do at the SMH. You'll have to look.
Our scene is set on the quiet south coast beach at Dalmeny this week, as the sun starts to wane on half a dozen teenagers frolicking after school, a couple of people on the beach walking, the requisite dogs gambolling about, an older bloke coming in from the surf with his board under his arm and a young father teaching his son to surf. And now up goes the shout! Help!
Two of the teenage girls have suddenly been caught in a strong rip and are being carried out to sea. One of the walkers races to the only two on the beach with boards and alerts them. The father brings his son to the shore to leave in the care of one of the women, and then joins the other surfer as they push out beyond the breakers, getting to the two girls just in time. The older fellow gets one girl on board, but the rip still has them. What to do? The young father gives the other girl his board to keep her safe, while he acts as an outboard motor for the two on the board, kicking his legs like a mad thing, to propel them to shore. Once they are safe, he swims back to his board and paddles the other girl back to shore. Profuse thanks are offered from all. As the older surfer heads off, he nods towards the young father who has now retrieved his lad and notes, "Those two girls would have drowned without that young guy." The young father resumes his son's surfing lesson, as if nothing has happened. Gotta love this country. And well done, Greg Tiffen.
Pronoun oddity ...
It was only a small grab, but interesting. On Tuesday, Paul Gallen told Channel Nine's Danny Weidler for the evening news: "I'll always do my best for the Sharks, as I've always done. They always come first." Again, I ask, and I mean it as serious question. If the likes of Gallen refers to the Sharks in the third person, just who has the right to use the first person? Is it weird in the NRL that players who've been with a club for TEN YEARS, say "them" and "they," instead of "us" and "we"? Discuss.
... and punctuation fun
Fitzphile James Thomas says the arrival of Nick Kommer into the senior ranks of Essendon is proof positive that the AFL Gods are now smiling on one of their favourite sons, Dennis Cometti. In this, the commentator's last year, he will now be able to say, as the ruckman runs into heavy traffic: "Kommer comes to a full stop." And when he comes down headfirst after attempting a mark, cue Cometti: "I'm not sure who said what to whom, but I definitely saw an inverted Kommer there."
Meantime, readers are still sending in their own favourites, like when Geelong's Joel Selwood was sent off under the blood rule for the umpteenth time: "I think a bandage is on his family crest ..."
And after a Hawks player somehow manages to twist his way out of a tackle, despite being covered by three Demons and being right next to the boundary: "Oh, the old Ralph Fiennes manoeuvre. Not much space to move, but he made it work."
And he was equally merciless when the Hawks' wayward kicking cost them a game against Geelong they should have won: "They'll be kicking themselves themselves right now, but with their luck, they'd probably miss."
Headline of the week in the SMH accompanying a Greg Baum article: "How do you absolve a problem like Maria?" I wish I'd said that, Oscar.
Barry Humphries on what he gave the 84-year-old Rupert Murdoch and his three-decades younger bride, Jerry Hall, as a wedding present: "David Beckham, and some jumper leads ..." Thank Gawd, I didn't say that, Oscar.
Matilda Michelle Heyman on qualifying for Rio, after securing a draw with China: "That feeling is incredible and it's another tattoo I can add on to my body. Most definitely need the rings on me. I've been saving a little bit of space on my body for it. I told myself I would have those rings on me and hopefully it's going to happen soon."
Maria Sharapova offers up the reason on how she didn't know the medicine she had been taking was on the banned list from January 1 this year, despite have receiving an email from WADA informing her of that fact: "I didn't click on that link."
Sharapova, in the middle of the drug scandal news conference, on whether she was going to announce her retirement: "If I was going to announce my retirement, it wouldn't be in a downtown Los Angeles hotel with this fairly ugly carpet."
Former tennis official, and then boss of ASADA, Richard Ings: "Brilliant presser by Sharapova. That's the play book if you ever face a positive drugs test. Transparent and sorry."
Jennifer Capriati was less impressed: "I didn't have the high priced team of [doctors] that found a way for me to cheat and get around the system and wait for science to catch up."
Paul Murray paying tribute to his father, horse trainer Bede Murray, after he passed away on Wednesday aged 80: "He was a legend and a champion bloke and most of all he was my dad ..."
Rooster Latrell Mitchell dismisses claims of him being the next Greg Inglis "I'm not Greg Inglis. I want to make my own name. I want people to know me as Latrell Mitchell, not the next Greg Inglis ... I want to be known as Latrell Mitchell. Just Latrell Mitchell, not the next Greg Inglis, if you know what I mean." Got it, champ.
Nick Percat on winning the Clipsal 500, whatever that is: "This is unbelievable. I've watched this since I was in a pram. Everyone wants to win the Clipsal 500 ... it's a feeling I'll never forget." I'm guessing it is won on something fast, noisy, powerful and dangerous.
Bernie Tomic during the Davis Cup tie: "Nick's sitting down in Canberra. Bullshit he's sick. Two times he done it. Two times he's faked it." Me? I reckon things are grim when even Tomic says you're dogging it.
Nick Kyrgios tweets in reply, referring to Tomic's 28-minute loss to Finn Jarkko Nieminen at the 2014 Miami Open – the quickest match in ATP history: "Let's not forget who holds the quickest loss on the ATP tour lol #how many minutes again. Just don't expect me to have your back anytime soon."
Billy Brownless, on the Footy Show, shares his pain as the cameras roll: "It's just wrong. You don't touch a man's wallet, you don't touch his wife. Let me tell you, by law it's legal to do what they're doing, but morally it's wrong in all aspects." Excruciating, and watching it on TV, felt like peeping through someone else's bedroom window. Not right.
Greg Norman on being dumped from the Fox golf coverage: "I'd had conversations with [fellow Australian and Fox boss], David Hill, and he wanted me there, he knew that I could deliver the right message that Fox wanted. We had, quite honestly, incredible pre-game meetings, post-game meetings, and there was never any indication that I was going to get the boot up my butt, so it came as a total surprise to me."
Team of the Week
Maria Sharapova. The face of female tennis confesses to failing a drug test.
Steven Bowditch. Our favourite Novocastrian didn't do as well, and after solid shockers, finished 49 shots behind Scott.
Richard Graham. Never got out of first gear at the Reds, and was peremptorily sacked, after just two losing matches this season.
Perth Wildcats. Won the NBL for a record seventh time.
Chloe McCardel. The highly accomplished open water swimmer – she once crossed the Channel THREE TIMES, without pause, was inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame and also bestowed the Poseidon Award.
The 2016 Kuring-gai Chase and Barry Easy Walk. This fourth annual fundraiser for kids with special needs, sponsored by St Ives Shopping Village – takes place on Sunday. Bravo, and walk well.
Peyton Manning. Hanging up the boots after a wonderful career.
Sheffield Shield. As if you didn't know, Victoria, Queensland and NSW fighting for two spots in the final heading into the final round.
Old Knoxonians Cricket Club. Won the 2015-16 Jack Pace Shield in the City and Suburban Cricket Association competition, having lost the grand final in the last two seasons.
Tropical Cyclone Winston Appeal Heritage basketball game. They're raising funds to help undo the damage done by the horrendous Cyclone Winstron. Athletes such as Junior Roqica and Peni Nasalo are organising and Lote Tuqiri will be there. It is happening April 1 in Mt Gravatt.
Mina Guli. Has now completed four legs of her "Seven Desert Run," as she attempts to run the equivalent of 40 marathons across seven deserts on seven continents in seven weeks to raise awareness of global water scarcity. She is now on the mighty Simpson. "Run, Forrrrrest, run!"
Sydney Classics over 50's cricket team. Had a four-week 13-game tour of South Africa. RAH!
RIP Bud Collins. The popular tennis writer and commentator, a legend in his field and very nice to junior journalists like me when I met him at the 1987 French Open, passed away aged 86.
RIP Paul Couch. At the age of just 51, the 1989 Brownlow medallist was struck down by a fatal heart attack this week. Vale.