Australian Olympians Criticized For Unacceptable Conduct On Flight

When it comes to serious inflight incidents, it has been a while between drinks for Australian sporting teams. Despite their longstanding bad-boy reputation, the average Australian sports team on the road these days veers towards good behavior. But two Australian teams returning from the Tokyo Olympics have broken the bad behavior drought.

A flight carrying Australian Olympians was marred by bad behavior last week. Photo: Boeing

Who would have guessed? Rugby players heading home getting on the drink

Multiple media reports are emerging of a rough ride for other passengers on a Japan Airlines flight to Sydney last week. Onboard were the returning Australian men’s soccer team and rugby sevens team. Both teams had busted out in Tokyo.

Sydney’s Daily Telegraph newspaper on Wednesday reports one passenger saying some (not all) of the Olympians were “loud, singing, refusing to sit down when requested, rowdy and obnoxious.”

The teams were traveling on a scheduled Japan Airlines flight to Sydney on Thursday evening. Japan Airlines flight JL51 pushed back from Tokyo Haneda at 19:20 and flew through the night before arriving in Sydney (SYD) at 06:10 on Friday morning. The flight was operated by JA842J, a Boeing 787-8.

There were 49 Olympians on the flight who had competed across nine sports. The complaints of bad behavior concern only some rugby and soccer players. But the behavior of these players was so bad Japan Airlines wrote a letter of complaint to the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC).

According to the newspaper report, the soccer team was up the back of the plane while the rugby team was seated towards the front of the economy class cabin. Reportedly, the rugby team was sinking a few drinks. They began chanting and singing loudly and decided to visit their mates down the back of the plane. Things went downhill from there.

“Players hadn’t seen each other during the Olympics and this was the first time they had a chance to catch up,” an unnamed AOC source says.

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Allegations Olympians raided the drinks trolley in the galley

Several of the Olympians were drunk, and at least one began vomiting, rendering one of the aircraft’s toilets unusable for the remainder of the flight. There are also allegations one or more team members raided the alcohol stored in a galley fridge, despite flight attendants asking them not to. Generally, the offenders were disruptive and obnoxious.

“They were drinking all the time,” said one passenger.

Football (Soccer) Australia and Rugby Australia are aware of the reports and investigating. Always brand-aware, the AOC is also taking the complaint from Japan Airlines seriously. Rugby Australia CEO Matt Carroll called the behavior “extremely disappointing.

As Australian teams wrapped up their Tokyo visit, reports have filtered through of some big nights – holes in walls, broken beds, and the mortal sin of failing to front for pre-booked breakfast TV appearances.

The Olympians came back to Sydney on a Japan Airlines 787 Dreamliner. Photo: Boeing

Building on a longstanding reputation

The negative reputation of traveling Australian sporting teams dates back to the 1970s and Australia’s globetrotting cricket team. Big gregarious men who enjoyed a beer or three, on one famous 1989 flight, one notorious cricketer consumed 53 cans of beer on a Qantas flight between Sydney and London.

Stories still circulate of Qantas Captains celebrating such events with PA announcements and a cabin load of passengers applauding the feat. This would not happen in 2021. Now, flight attendants would swiftly cut off service, and passenger phones would record the sportsperson’s impending social media disgrace.

Meanwhile, another planeload of returning Olympians landed in Darwin on Tuesday morning. This time, a chartered Qantas 787-9 flew them in. There were no reports of unruly inflight behavior. It was a dry flight and no beer records were threatened. Meek as lambs, the stone-cold sober Olympians were bundled straight into quarantine.

The soccer and rugby boys also have two weeks in quarantine to sleep their hangovers off.