Confucius Institute Dinner speech by David Hynes

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Good evening. With the Olympics underway in Beijing and the recent establishment of the Confucius Institute here at Sydney University, it is a privilege tonight to speak about my experiences both with the Olympic movement and here at Sydney University.
As Robyn outlined, I played baseball for Australia at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Baseball isn’t a big sport in Australia although we do hold the record for the largest attendance ever at a baseball game when over 110,000 people watched Australia play the USA in a demonstration game at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

As a child growing up, I never expected that I would be playing baseball at the Olympics. Indeed, from the age of 12 I had my heart set on going to the Olympics but as a long distance runner. My father was an insomniac and he would wake me up between 4-4.30am every day and I would run from my house to Parramatta Pool which was about 12km away, swim a kilometer in the pool and then head off to school. As you can see, as I got a little older it became apparent that I didn’t really have the
physique for an Olympic marathon runner.

There was another young guy who was at Parramatta Pool every morning who I never spoke to but the Pool Manager told me that he was training to be an Olympic swimmer. For 5 years we would swim next to each other but never said a word to each other. Some years later, when I walked into the Opening Ceremony at the Atlanta Olympics, I couldn’t believe it but there was this young guy that I used to train with marching into the stadium next to me.

His name was Daniel Collins and he hadn’t made it to the Olympics as a swimmer but as a canoeist whilst I had made it as a baseballer as opposed to a marathon runner. True to form, we both looked at each other and still didn’t say a word! I am happy to say that we have met since then and are now good mates and that he has won a number of Olympic medals in canoeing.

I am not sure what the point is to that story other than to say that it is quite amazing that 2 young guys can have a dream of going to the Olympics at a very young age in one sport yet ultimately make it to the Olympics in another sport. That is the wonderful thing about the Olympic Games – they are a very special event and I have had a tear in my eye on several occasions this week watching athletes who have dreamed for their entire lives about reaching this great stage and giving their all when they
get there.

It is quite clear that China has made every effort to make the Games a success – the venues and facilities are acknowledged by everyone as the best ever. By way of comparison to other Olympics, the Sydney Olympics cost $14billion Athens cost $16billion and London in 2012 is expected to cost around $18billion. China has spent over $40billion!

I believe that there is a lack of understanding in parts of the media and community about Chinese culture and the attitude of the Chinese towards the Games – that somehow the event is sterile or lacking in Olympic spirit and the like. From my discussions with people who are in Beijing for the Games, without exception everyone has commented on the friendliness of the volunteers and locals and the obvious pride that the Chinese are experiencing in the Olympics being held in Beijing.

Hopefully the work of the Confucius Institute will enable Australians to gain a better understanding of the long cultural history of China and the changing nature of China today. When I started at Sydney University in 1990, I had given up the long distance running dream and was playing a lot of baseball. Early in first year I was reading the University of Sydney News and spotted a very small 3 line notice inviting students who had some aptitude for sport and study to apply for a Sports Scholarship. There were 2 scholarships offered that year and I was lucky enough to receive one. I didn’t play sport for the University that first year but when the next year came around and I backed up for another handout, I was firmly advised that I would actually be required to play sport for the University to receive any more funding.

This came as somewhat of a shock to me as I didn’t know that baseball was even played at Sydney University so had no idea what to expect when I attended my first training session.

To perhaps give you a feel for Sydney University baseball in the early 1990s, a book was written a few years ago to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Sydney University Baseball Club and I quote….

“David Hynes was not initially quite ready for the cultural shift required to play University baseball. Coaching a first grade game early in his career, he turned to the lower graders on the hill in search of a replacement player in the late innings. The first club member he addressed replied “I’d love to, but I’ve already had three beers”. The second nodded, yes, him too. The third candidate opined “I’m really enthusiastic too Coach, but …” pointing to a roll your own cigarette of unorthodox nature.”

Without doubt, though, playing sport for Sydney University was one of the best things I did both career and sporting-wise. When the Atlanta Olympics finished, I travelled around with the Chicago Cubs Major League Team for a couple of weeks for a mutual tryout. On their part – was I good enough to play in the Major Leagues? On my part – did I want to do this?

The decision was ultimately very easy – I was sitting in a hotel bar in NY with this team of Major League baseballers (all of whom were multimillionaires from the game, travelling the country and living the dream of so many young kids) and it was the one of the most boring evenings of my life – all we talked about was baseball.

Sitting there, I compared it to sitting on the bench at Sydney University where sitting next to me was a vet, a mathematician, a lawyer, a doctor, a Rhodes Scholar in Andrew Bell and those guys on the hill having the unorthodox cigarette.

It was no contest!

Playing sport at Sydney University was probably the first time that I had ever played sport that was not at an elite level. It is interesting that, nearly 20 years later, I remain highly involved with sport here at the University and possess more ongoing friendships from my time playing socially at the University than I do from playing at an elite level.

When I retired from baseball, I was 25 years old and all I wanted to do was to learn about business. I had a few opportunities such as working with a sports agent in LA (again though, when I visited his office there were 2 players from the USA Basketball Dream Team playing computer games in his office – reinforcing my US professional sportsperson stereotypes!)

These days I am involved with my own property development business and a number of Boards, and last year left the Board of Australian University Sport which represents 48 Universities across Australia. From my experiences at AUS, the sports program here at Sydney University is, without doubt, the leading program in the country. Much of this success and leadership is due to the Sports Scholarship Program.

Up to 1990, when the Sports Scholarship program was introduced, Sydney University had produced 240 national representatives. Since then, Sydney University has produced over 530 national representatives. In 1990, there were 2 Sports Scholarships and $3,000 in funding. There are now nearly 300 athletes in the Scholarship and Talented Athlete Program with funding exceeding $1.1million.

Students on scholarship at the University also have marks that exceed the averages in their various courses.

In terms of the Olympics, I understand that I was the only Sydney University athlete representative in 1996. In Beijing, we have 22 athletes and 8 officials.

I am a big believer in balance in people’s lives – particularly between sport and scholarship. Whenever I am introduced to people at University, it is always as Sydney University’s first scholarship recipient. At the time, none of us knew how big and successful the scholarship program would become. It is a tribute to the University, and Sydney University Sport in particular, and a great honour for me to be the first of a long line of sports scholars.

As an Olympic Scholar – the theme of my speech, I can say that while going to the Olympics was an undoubted highlight of my life, the enduring friends, experiences and memories that came from participating in sport at Sydney University remain extremely
significant to me.

Once again, thank you for having me tonight – I wish the Confucius Institute every success and look forward to watching it become a great success over the coming years.