PERSONAL SCORE is van Neerven’s reflections on what it means to play sport in Australia as a queer, First Nations sportsperson. Sports, as I know it in Australia, is presented as everything good about being Australian – it brings people together to a common purpose, it’s about working together, it’s about celebrating and it’s about respect. 

Except, the ugly truth is, sport is not this simple.  Even for white athletes, being able to remain the adored hero of your country is entirely transactional.  Win, and all is forgiven, but if you don’t, no one seemingly remembers you are human. I don’t follow any sports apart from tennis, and even then I can think of an example – see how Bernard Tomic went from fresh Australian hope to Daily Mail tabloid fodder as it emerged that he didn’t want to apply himself to his sport exactly the way we wanted him to apply himself – that is, blood, sweat, tears, and hard sacrifice to win us our Australian Open the way our beloved Ash Barty has. The more Tomic revealed himself to be content with “just” a Grand Slam quarterfinal and millions of dollars in endorsements to retire on, the more we decided he was more Croatian than Australian anyway. For van Neerven, they struggled on the back foot to begin with – because of their identity, they were excluded from the outset.  This book holds a mirror to sport in Australia and asks it to account for its own conduct in how it treats its players.

For van Neerven, the struggles are more numerous and specific, such as the capacity for their sport to accept their identity and the dissonance between their culture and sport as competition.  There’s also the uncomfortable truth of playing on a land that was taken from their people. My only complaint is not specific just to this book, but this style of book in general – a type I call ‘reflective memoirs’. This one in particular floats between essays, poems, and some other experimental chapters which I struggle to describe in words. 

Van Neerven themself explains the reflective nature of this book in a forward. I am never against writing as reflection or catharsis, but as a reading audience, I struggle to understand the need for these to be published, for an audience, when it feels like no audience is really wanted or accounted for in these books.  

Similar to the last book I read (“The First Time I Thought I Was Dying”), these books are so deeply personal that only fragments resonate. At other times I feel that I am just reading someone’s highly curated personal journal. Should either author really want an audience to receive their stories, wouldn’t it be more beneficial for both writer and reader for these books to be more accessible? I struggle to get past the slightly self-serving nature of both these books, regardless of the skill and artistry involved. 

Review  by Tiffany Yuan