"If the Age of Sport has been all champagne and roses hitherto, then expect our love affair with its newly-acquired prominence to become increasingly tainted by scandals about cheating. Sport is losing its shine and allure"
-Attributed to Martin Jacques
Recently, an event occurred that captured the attention of the entire country and evoked outrage, disgust, and feelings of betrayal by the everyday citizen.
Members of the men's Australian Cricket team were caught cheating.
Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull labelled it "a shocking disappointment" and the furore on social media has been predictably savage. There are, I think, two parts to the conversation that we as a country need to have.
Firstly, why are we surprised? I have been refereeing football (soccer) for several years (though taking a year or two off to be with Ms One) and I have heard from coaches, from parents, from players a disturbing amount of vitriol that all amounts to win at any costs. I have even seen this in under five's football. Five year old children being told to "cut him down," "run harder," and "what were you thinking? that was a stupid pass."
What message is being given to our kids who idolise so many sports stars when this happens, what message do we give them when we coach our local Underage sporting team and we give messages akin to win ant any costs? We get athlete's who lose sight of professionalism, ethics, self-pride, and do whatever they can to win.
Steve Smith, now ex-Captain of the men's Australian Cricket Team, said in his emotional press conference that "We spoke about it and thought it was a possible way to get an advantage. Obviously it didn't work." The Rules of Cricket (rule 41.3.2) state that "It is an offence for any player to take any action which changes the condition of the ball." Therefore, any action in breach of this, such as using sandpaper to scrape the ball, is cheating, not a possible way to get an advantage.
What message are we sending to our kids when we coach them when we scream from the sidelines about how they are not trying hard enough or making stupid decisions? Are we in fact coaching? Or are we confusing them and hurting their ability to learn given that there is (generally) one coach for the team and it is probably not you?
When I was a pre-service teacher, I was involved in helping coach the school's Touch Football Team and attended a Gala Day with them and the actual coach, another teacher. We had one student in particular who was one of those kids; brilliant at any ball game he tried his hand at. He was, unquestionably, the star of the team and had a hand in nearly every try that was scored.
Between two matches (we played four matches that day), he was involved in some deplorable sledging against another team, using language that I would never accept in the playground. I felt that it was enough to pull him from the team for the remaining games, and if it was my choice, I would have pulled him and had him returned to school immediately, with a long conversation about appropriate language, sporting conduct, and the role that off-field behaviour has for selection. However, I was over ruled. He was too important to the team and we did not stand a chance without this boy on the field.
What message does that send? How will you address this cheating with your children? With the kids sports team that you coach?
The second conversation that I think we need to have is why is this the thing that grips the nations attention and creates a furore and a national sense of self-righteous indignation and a feeling of betrayal, and demands for a change in culture and that action be taken, with the three players involved handed lengthy bans?
Why was it not the 2002 Cronulla Sharks' pack-sex assault against a nineteen year old woman? Why was it not in 2009 when Adelaide Crows gave an indefinite-ban to Nathan Bock after was admitted to assaulting his then girlfriend but lifted it a week later because they were playing a strong team the next weekend? Why was it not a few years later when Bock received a two-match suspension for dodgy gambling about his own matches - a sentence twice as bad for hurting gambling as for hurting another human. There are so many other incidents that could be pointed to that it is not worth listing them. Credit to Clementine Ford for those I have listed, drawn from her article on 27 March, here.
I have to admit that I got caught up in the indignation and shock when I first heard about the cheating by Smith, Warner, and Bancroft. When I stopped to analyse it though, I think it was because we have become so used to hearing about various incidents from other sporting codes, such as rugby league and AFL, that it's not a surprise to hear about issues in those sports. For cricket, however, it did come as a surprise.
If you coach, or are a parent with a child who plays sport, consider the message you are sending when you yell and shout and carry on at sporting events. Think about the message it sends about the value of a game compared to the value of a person's dignity.