One of the more unusual aspects of my life since suffering a spinal cord injury is the role I now play as 'eye candy' for publicity pics about good causes. I don't mind playing the part. I understand how the game works. If you want to publicise an event, facility or service, or if you want to write a news story covering the opening/launch of such, then the easy shorthand is to get the guy in a wheelchair to pose for the pic with whoever the story is really about.
In the run up to the Paralympics in 2012, I found myself playing basketball in Trafalgar Square one day, and tennis there on another. On both occasions the focus was on promoting the sport, but still we had a long queue of dignitaries who wanted to make the most of the photo op, climaxing with David Cameron and Boris Johnson playing mixed doubles with two wheelchair players in what was clearly score settling for some childhood dust-up on the playing fields of Eton (sadly, much of British politics seems to be driven by much the same motivation).
Still, I enjoyed watching the chaos from a ringside seat, and the news cycle and click-centric coverage makes this kind of fly-in-fly-out-photo-moment all too common.
Now I find myself in small-town Australia, and I was greatly heartened by the local tennis club's efforts to ensure that improvements to their facilities would also make the courts and clubhouse wheelchair accessible. I was happy to help out in my modest way, by writing to the local MP in support of the club's funding application, explaining why I felt that tennis provided a great opportunity for integrated sport, etc.
I was delighted to hear that the funding had been secured, and was a little surprised to learn that the NSW Premier, Mike Baird, would be dropping in to the club to recognise the award. Having been invited to attend too, I was happy to do so.
The surprise at Baird's attendance was primarily because we are in the early stages of a Federal general election campaign, but also because there was some controversy locally, surrounding the Premier's plans to merge various local councils. In the end, the local merger didn't go ahead, and so the tennis club speeches were peppered with references to 'local visas being reinstated', delivered with the inevitable 'I-could-have-been-a-comedian (No, really, you couldn't) chuckling so loved by politicians the world over. Incidentally, should you be considering a career in politics, please study Barack Obama's delivery carefully. Obviously he doesn't write all his own gags, but his timing and emphasis are faultless.
For the record, the local MP had come out against the merger, although he wasn't exactly manning the barricades, so while some local people view him as a hero, I rather view him as a good strategist. It wasn't a resigning issue, and as it was immediately obvious that the majority were against the planned change, any local MP who didn't back the NO campaign would have risked significant local political capital in not doing so.
Still, perhaps there was some fallout after all....
The Premier invited the local MP onto the tennis court for a photo op that was eerily reminiscent of Trafalgar Square four years ago, and we lined up; a wheelchair player and a politician on each side of the net (I got Baird).
I mostly watched, fascinated as the Premier thundered tennis ball after tennis ball at the local MP, who is legally blind (in the UK, I think he would be referred to as partially sighted). To give him his dues, the MP tried valiantly, and even managed to connect a part of his racket with a couple of balls, but it clearly wasn't his sport. It certainly counts as one of the more unusual 'have-a-hit moments' I have experienced on the tennis courts of the world...