It was to be a chance to shine, they told him. A chance to get out from under the long shadow of his wife, The Queen of England.

It was 1956, and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, took off on a trip to Australia to participate in the opening of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. He and the Queen had actually attended the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, and two years later, went to Australia as that country was gearing up for the Melbourne Summer Games. According to this article in the Daily Telegraph, the Queen accepted an invitation to return to Australia to open up the first Olympics in the southern hemisphere.

 

Prince Philip at the Melbournce Olympics
Prince Philip at the Opening Ceremonies of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

 

As Queen Elizabeth’s schedule would not permit, Prince Philip stepped in. On board the HMY Britannia, the Prince was on an extended tour of the British empire, including New Guinea and nearby islands, as well as a trip to Antarctic, the first member of royalty to travel that far south.

But as is portrayed in the wonderful period series, The Crown, it was not all smooth sailing. The Daily Telegraph stated that the Prince “arrived at the MCG in a Rolls Royce, resplendent in naval uniform, to open the games,” which helped smooth over the rumors of infidelity. But the rumors would gain momentum when it was reported that his close friend, Mike Parker, was being sued for divorce by his wife for adultery among other things. Parker, who was the Prince’s private secretary, resigned on the Brittannia, and the Prince returned home to rumors of worsening relations between he and his wife.

So what was supposed to be a moment of pride for the British empire turned into tawdry tabloid fodder.

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australia surf brands

Surfing is as Australian as vegemite. Champion surfers from Australia are commonplace. The image of an Aussie lifeguard on his surfboard to the rescue is now clichéd. Some of the biggest brands in surfing wear – Quicksilver and Billabong – are Australian. And even though the UGG Australia is an American brand, the company was started by an Australian surfer.

Australia is over 5,600 miles away from Hawaii. But when Duke Kahanamoku came to Australia in 1914, the locals must have thought he was from another planet. Kahanamoku was world famous, which is saying a lot for that time. Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, a natural on the water, Kahanamoku was such an amazing swimmer that he got on the US Olympic team and won a gold medal in the 100 meters, and a silver in a relay race at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics.

Duke Kahanamoku surfing in Australia
Duke Kahanamoku, Cronulla Beach Australia, 7th February 1915

Thanks to the stunning photos of Kahanamoku standing erect on his board while riding the waves in Hawaii, and his accomplishments at the Olympic Games, Kahanamoku was invited to compete in swimming events in Australia and New Zealand. He had heard that surfing on the beaches of Australia was illegal, so he didn’t bring his board. But when he arrived and was told that surfing was in fact legal, he said he would build a board himself. According to author David Davis in his wonderful biography of Kahanamoku, Waterman, Kahanamoku went to a lumberyard, got the wood he wanted, and shaped an eight-and-a-half foot “round-nosed, square-tailed board”.

Kahanamoku wowed them. Davis quotes The Sunday Times (Sydney), from December 27, 1914:

Duke Kahanamoku in Australia
Duke Kahanamoku at the Freshwater Clubhouse, Australia, with the board he made on arrival

“Kahanamoku was the ‘human motor boat,’ wrote one observer. ‘So lightning like was the movement that all one could see was a dark figure – it might have been a post for all that the spectators knew – flying through space. We had known him only by repute; we had seen him in pictures in one of his famous attitudes – standing on his surf board, being borne shorewards on the crest of a wave, a smile on his dusky countenance, and there were a lot of us who imagined the poster to be grossly exaggerated; too theatrical, in fact. But we are wrong. The man on the poster is the Duke all right, but the picture errs on the side of modesty.'”

It is legend that Kahanamoku was the first to surf on Australian shores. But that is not the case. Brothers, William and Tommy Walker of Australia appear to have purchased a surfboard in Hawaii and brought it back to Sydney before Duke was on the scene. But there is no doubt that Kahanamoku, his presence, demeanor and skill, made him and surfing a phenomenon.

“Kahanamoku was the first expert to surf in Australian waters,” wrote Davis. “And, as he had done previously in places like Atlantic City and Southern California, his skill at ‘walking on water’ inspired numerous followers. At least three of the young people whom he directly touched on the 1914-1915 trip – Claude West, “Snow” McAlister, and Isabel Letham – grew up to become influential figures in Australian circles. Once

Japan Women's Soccer Team beats Brazil in 2012 Olympic Play
Japan’s Women’s Soccer Team defeating Brazil at the 2012 London Games.

I remember being surprised to read that the Japanese Women’s National Soccer team, the team that was the reigning world cup champions and went on to win silver at the 2012 London Olympic Games, had to fly economy class to London, while the men’s soccer team flew business class.

The Japanese Football Association, the organization that oversees soccer in Japan, stated that the men’s team were afforded this perk due to their “status as professionals”, according to this article from the Daily Mail. This was despite the incredible popularity and success of the women’s football squad, affectionately known as Nadeshiko Japan.

Alas, Japan isn’t alone in these sexist attitudes that are rapidly appearing blatant. Australia was also guilty of this as it sent its men’s basketball team to the London Games seated in business class, while the women’s basketball team flew economy.

In order to correct what apparently is a common practice in Australia, the AustrNadeshikoalian federal sports minister Sussan Ley and Australian Sports Commission (ASC) chairman John Wylie, jointly sent a warning letter to the top 30 funded sports organizations in Australia to refrain from this practice, according to this BBC story.

“In 2016, we can think of no defensible reason why male and female athletes should travel in different classes or stay in different standard accommodation when attending major international sporting events.”

Australian women's basketball team
Australian Women’s basketball team

 

This letter was sent recently on February 2, with a clear attempt to preemptively avoid any further embarrassing examples during the Rio Games in August. The veiled threat is that funding for the various sports associations would be impacted if treatment was viewed as not equal.

My guess is that Japan’s women’s soccer team will be afforded similar travel arrangements to the men en route to Rio. But will that hold true for all sports associations in Japan? Not so sure…..