So Sachin, what have you done for us lately?
Prime Minister Julia Gillard is certainly a supporter of India's Little Master, awarding him an Order of Australia yesterday while watching slum kids play cricket in New Delhi. She personally recommended "the great batsman" for the honorary award for his "outstanding contribution to international cricket" which she said was an inspiration to young cricketers in Australia and abroad.
Such honorary appointments may be made to non-Australian citizens "where they have given extraordinary service to Australia or humanity at large". Ms Gillard also noted Tendulkar's charity and ambassadorial work to get him over the line.
The Order of Australia apparently "operates on the principles of independence and freedom from political patronage". But the timing of Tendulkar's award is curious. Short of sending a ship-load of uranium to India, Ms Gillard's nod to Tendulkar in what she called the "cricket-mad nation" has worked wonders in bolstering relations with our fastest-growing export market.
Tendulkar's award was an "obvious diplomatic touch point", NSW Independent MP Rob Oakeshott noted this morning. "I love Sachin, I love cricket but I just have a problem with soft diplomacy," he told ABC radio. "It's about the integrity of the honours list, which should be for Australians."
There should be a separate award system for non-Australians, such as an "Australia-India award", he said.
Other commentators have been less complimentary of Tendulkar, noting his involvement in the racial abuse of Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds by Indian bowler Harbhajan Singh during the Sydney Test in 2008.
That Tendulkar — who has played against Australia more times than any other cricketer — didn't deign to speak to fans and followers while playing here last summer was not well received.
The remarkable batsman, who is in South Africa playing Twenty20 cricket, was awarded "for service to Australia-India relations by promoting goodwill, friendship and sportsmanship through the sport of cricket".
Such honorary awards have been given to 333 non-Australian citizens. Government House could not say how many recipients were sportspeople, but cricketers have fared well. West Indian batsman Brian Lara was similarly recognised in 2009. Former West Indian captain Clive Lloyd was made an honorary Officer of the Order of Australia in 1985 for his "outstanding and positive influence" on cricket in Australia.
The criteria for awarding an Order of Australia is understandably high. Nominees must have:
- demonstrated achievement at a high level;
- made a contribution over and above what might be reasonably expected through paid employment; or
- made a voluntary contribution to the community that stands out from others who have also made a valuable contribution.
Honorary awards have typically recognised foreigners who have made a direct and significant contribution to Australia: Malta's Margot Bonello was recognised in 1990 for caring for the graves of Australian World War II airmen; Yoshimaro Katsumata for his contribution to student exchanges between Japan and Australia; and American businessman Frank Blount for running Telstra.
The only other Indian to have received an honorary award was former Attorney-General Soli Sorabjee in 2006, "for service to Australia-India bilateral legal relations".
Tendulkar sits rather oddly alongside such luminaries, who have done much to aid Australia and Australians at home and abroad. Sure, many Australians like cricket and Tendulkar is particularly good at playing it. But beyond giving us something to watch over summer, what has he done to benefit Australia?
Award nominees must be nothing short of extraordinary people, "whose service and contribution have had the effect of making a significant difference to Australian life or, more broadly, to humanity at large". This year's Australian awardees included Men's Shed founder Warren Humphries and teen solo sailor Jessica Watson.
But if honorary awards are to be given on the basis of international achievement in a sport that also happens to be played in Australia, presumably the Prime Minister also has Russian chess legend Garry Kasparov in mind. A nod to English darts players Phil "the Power" Taylor would be well received in every pub in the land.
Or what about the world women's beach volleyball champions, Brazilians Juliana Felisberta and Larissa Franca? There's a sport many of us like to watch. Certainly, such an award would do no harm in bolstering our trade relations in South America.