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We should want athletes to speak their minds ... and be wary when sponsors speak theirs

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One of the Matildas’ major sponsors is Qantas, so presumably Alan Joyce was not at all happy about the controversy that erupted when Sam Kerr told people to "suck on that one".

"We sponsor organisations and sports teams to get a positive benefit out of it," the Qantas chief executive said on Thursday. "When it becomes controversial, we, of course, want the sporting code to fix those issues."

Attitude: Australia's Sam Kerr.Credit:AP

Kerr’s candour triggered an outcry at her apparent lack of grace in the moments after the Matildas saved their World Cup campaign by beating Brazil. To many people, her language was not befitting of a national captain. So Qantas jumped into action, right? Joyce called David Gallop at Football Federation Australia and said what he says to sponsored sporting organisations in these situations, as he also revealed on Thursday: "What are you doing to make sure we’re not involved in controversy?"

And if pigs might fly, they choose Qantas.

Joyce’s comments about controversy, as if "controversy" were a measurable quantity with no values attached, were not of course about Kerr and the Matildas, but about Israel Folau and Rugby Australia and, for good measure, the ball-tampering affair and Cricket Australia, which Qantas also sponsors. To Cricket Australia, Joyce recounted, "we said, 'that was not good'. Some sponsors pulled out, we didn't. We gave them time to fix it, and they fixed it. We're still a sponsor and continue to be a sponsor because they did the right thing."

You don't have to be the other Alan – Jones, Joyce, or just confused? – to find this kind of language a bit untoward. You don't have to stand on either side of the issues involved to perceive the soft power, where it doesn’t matter if a threat is implied or direct, it's a threat either way.

Illustration: Simon Letch.Credit:

Personally, I expect I would be........

© The Age