In The Trip to Greece, pretty much the last international film completed before the COVID pandemic, Steve Coogan drives off the road and tears away onto a beach. His buddy Rob Brydon asks, "Are we allowed to do this?" Coogan smirks: "I was born allowed."
The changes in the ensuing year have only magnified the privileges of the born allowed. In a global context, Australia, with its wealth, stability and island border, is a nation of the born allowed. Domestically we might lampoon the "Class A citizens", from Kerry Stokes to Dannii Minogue, when they get away with a little personal tailoring of COVID-19 requirements, but the truth is that most Australians are Class A in comparison with the world in 2020, 2021 or any other year.
The Sydney Test will go ahead but that doesn’t mean it is right to go.Credit:Squiz
Australia’s chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, says he will not take his parents. The health counter-argument is that it’s an outdoor event (except for all the public transport, toilets, food outlets, entry vestibules and passageways in the SCG), which is, of course, a figleaf for the real mindset, which is that we of the born allowed are entitled to our Test match, and we have figured out how to get what we want within the rules.
When you are one of the born allowed, is there any other response than merely going along, getting away with it? Getting away with it is not just the motto of this government, it was the founding ethos of this state. It’s a hard habit to break in the name of doing the right thing.
And yet, if the privileged won’t do the right thing, what are our privileges worth? I am a white, middle-class, male, northern beaches cricket person who attends the Sydney Test match every year, and when not paid to be there, I go anyway. I guess there is minimal chance that I will take the COVID infection to the SCG, or that I will pick it up and bring it away with me. But even though I am allowed to go, it just seems like a fundamentally wrong and selfish thing to do. As a public health matter, it’s on the same spectrum as those who went to Trump rallies in November. How we laughed at them. It’s hanging onto our entitlements at the cost of taking the pandemic sufficiently seriously. It’s an up-yours to the pandemic, challenging it to take away our inherited privileges. (Hint: old mate pandemic isn’t listening.) It’s an expression of complacency in an isolated country that has been, simply, fortunate.
In all probability, the Test match won’t be a super-spreading event with dire consequences not only for Sydney but for the thousands of country people coming in and out of town. But if it does have that result, I personally don’t want to be complicit. Were any of those Trump rally attendees less culpable if they, personally, didn’t spread the virus? Conscientious objection isn’t a sanctimonious stance and it’s not telling anyone else what to do. It is simply a personal withdrawal.
To all those who do go, I wish you good luck, because it’s luck, even more than masks and hygienic habits, that you will need. The Test match is an important ritual to start the new year, and in 2021 that kind of celebration feels more necessary than ever. I have a keen appreciation of why people want it. I want it too. The virus, however, doesn’t go by the calendar, and nor should conscience. I will have my fingers crossed for those who take part, but I won’t be among them.
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