The WA Hall of Champions is a very prestigious place to be, as you must have excelled in your chosen sport.
The Hall of Champions was originally put forward by the Sportwriters Association of WA in 1983. The criteria to be accepted into the Hall are as follows: Outstanding sporting achievement at the highest level, the athlete must be accepted as a product of the WA sporting system or have established their reputation while resident in WA. The athlete must also have retired from the highest level of competition for five years.
The current members of the selection committee are: Mr David Hatt (Chairman), Mr Ken Casellas, Mrs Liz Chetkovich, Mr Alan East, Mr Ray Wilson, Mr Glenn Mitchell and Ms Pam O’Connell.
We were privileged to witness on Friday night the latest three inductees, Cyclist Darryn Hill, Golfer Maxine Bishop and Australian Rules Footballer Sammy Clarke.
On the night we were given a run down on the achievements of these athletes that warranted their elevation to the Hall of Champions, and those of Darryn Hill and Maxine Bishop appeared thoroughly deserved. Hill having been the 1995 World Sprint Champion, having also won silver in 1994, and bronze in 1996 and 1997. He also won bronze as part of the team sprint combination at the Sydney Olympics and won another World title in 1996.
Ms Bishop was the first Western Australian golfer male or female to win an Australian amateur championship, in 1951. And was the first to win an overseas tournament, the New Zealand Open also in 1951. She was state women’s champion 11 times and won the Victorian title three times, the only three times she entered.
Then came the induction of Sammy Clarke, and we have to say that this one just did not have the same feeling of merit. He won the Sandover medal in 1933 in his first season of Australian Rules football for Claremont-Cottesloe. He won it again the following year, and represented WA 8 times. All impressive, but does it really warrant induction into the Hall of Champions? We cannot believe that there are not people from other sports with more impressive credentials.
Louise Sauvage is one to spring to mind who won 9 Paralympic gold medals and three silver in four Paralympic appearances. She also won gold in the 800m demonstration event at the Olympic games in Atlanta(96) and Sydney (00). She also won the Boston, Los Angeles, Berlin and Honolulu Marathons. She was voted Australian Paralympian of the Year in 1994, 1996, 1997 and 1998 has been awarded numerous other awards including the 1998 Young Australian of the Year in a sports category, the 1999 Australian Female Athlete of the Year, and also an Order of Australia Medal. Yet she is overlooked for the Hall of Champions?
Louise is an exceptional example, but if you are going to honour the likes of Sammy Clarke then you must compare his achievement with others in other sports. In state football, Theo Papp won, what is now the McInerney Ford Gold Medal four times in 1964, ’67, ’68 and ’70. The only man to have done so. Norrie Sutton won the same award twice, in 1982 and fourteen years later in 1996. Both also represented Western Australia.
If we look at Rugby Union, I have been unable to obtain a list of the PG Hampshire Award winners, however surely John Cecil `Jock’ Steggall deserves to be in the Hall of Champions. “Jock” was born in Geraldton in 1909, the son of a watchmaker and played 10 tests for Australia between 1931-33 at fullback. He sadly passed away in 1985. Although born in Geraldton he was schooled in Toowoomba and spent time in Brisbane before his Wallaby call up. as in those days the only chance you hade of a call up was if you came from Queensland or new South Wales. Now according to the criteria he may well be excluded even though he is in fact a product of Western Australia, and someone that Rugby in WA recognises as a Western Australian. Yet because he headed over East to further his aspirations at a time when WA was not on the Rugby map he is excluded. Is this right?
Another example from rugby is NZ born Bob Thompson who was picked to play for Australia whilst playing for Wests in 1971. Probably the first player to picked to represent Australia while playing in Western Australia, in the days before the Western Force, and recognition that Western Australia could match the east coast.
There are bound to be others in other sports but hopefully the point is proven.
Now the reason that “Not The Footy Show” was launched in September 2006 was because we felt that there were athletes and sports that deserved recognition that were being overlooked by a media that seems obsessed with Australian Rules. It would appear that the most prestigious awards in the state have also been hijacked, as without wanting to offend Mr Clarke’s family, his place in the Hall of Champions is premature when there are in other sports others who appear certainly equally if not more worthy.
We have gone through the past Inductees to see if there is a fair representation of the athletes that Western Australia has produced, and we will let you be the judge, but there does appear to be a very strong bias to what were traditionally the “Australian” sports, Australian Rules in winter, and cricket in summer.
The following sports have the following number of athletes in the Hall of Champions (sports such as Hockey include male and female athletes) :
Australian Rules – 23
Hockey – 21
Cricket – 13*
Athletics – 9
Swimming – 9
Netball – 4
Water Polo – 3
Harness Racing – 3
Horse Racing – 3
Tennis – 3*
Squash – 2
Surf Lifesaving – 2
Golf – 2
Billiards – 2
Lacrosse – 2
Surf Riding – 2
Cycling – 2
Bowls – 1
Speedway – 1
Basketball – 1
Yachting – 1
Association Football – 1
*Ernest Parker was inducted for both Tennis and Cricket.
There would appear to be an imbalance. After all this is not even an international sport. Hockey is an Olympic sport and deserves to be where it is, but there are many other athletes and sports that are not being given the recognition that they deserve, and this needs to be righted. It seems a little strange that some Western Australian athletes are in their chosen sport’s national Hall of Fame before their home state acknowledges them.
There would also appear to be an imbalance on the selection committee with Messrs, Casellas, Mitchell, East and Wilson all having strong Australian Rules ties, or are we being unfair?
One thing that these judges must be careful of is devaluing the honour of the Hall of Champions by pushing an agenda for their favoured sport. It would be a very sad day if that were to happen.