The Greeks and Romans envisaged most of their gods as young fit athletes. Even Apollo, the god of the arts, had a six-pack to die for, as well as a lyre and bow and arrows.
We don’t imagine our gods as physical beings anymore, if we imagine there are any at all, but we deify our athletes, which probably makes it even more shocking when one of them dies.
Yesterday a 15 year old appears to have drowned at the Australian Surf Life Saving championships at Kurrawa as he was competing in a board race. The reporting is hysterical and inaccurate.
For example, the Courier Mail describes metre high surf as “rough” when most surfers would say it was “just about right”, then Kurrawa beach is magnified to 30 kilometres in length and stretches to the NSW border – apparently iconic beaches such as Burleigh Heads, Currumbin, Kirra and Snapper Rocks exist no longer.
A QC who represented the parents of Saxon Bird, who died a few years ago at the same carnival in conditions that really were dangerous, is calling for a Royal Commission into the Surf Life Saving Association and alleging that the race only went ahead because they were after sponsorship conditions.
It strikes me that not only is our society becoming extremely risk averse, but many of us now think that immortality is a birth right. Any death is regarded as a death too many, even though death is the fate of us all.
I’m not suggesting that sporting events ought to be any more dangerous than they have to be, but I am suggesting that there is a risk of mortality in all activities, and it is not something to be shunned.
This young athlete may have died because he hit his head on his board, or was hit by someone else’s. He might just as easily have had an undetected medical problem. I doubt whether the surf played much of a role in it at all.
It’s also more likely that he would be killed travelling to and from a surf carnival, or riding his bike along the road.
Surf life saving carnivals are part of the training for men and women who volunteer to keep our beaches safer than they would otherwise be. It’s dangerous work that they volunteer to do, so their training has to be dangerous too. I think it’s about time that we moved back towards celebrating those who embrace risk, and stopped looking for someone to blame if that embrace turns fatal, as though the authorities were Olympian Gods, micromanaging the affairs of human beings.