"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.
Respect, like trust, is a two-way street. If you’re not willing to give it, then you definitely don’t deserve it.”
– Attributed to Nishan Panwar
All through my own primary and secondary education, teachers were referred to as either Miss [Last Name] (regardless of whether they were a Miss or a Mrs), or for the men, as Mr [Last Name]. The same went for any adult that did not require some sort of familial moniker, such as aunt, uncle, grandma, grandpa etc. That was just what was expected, because, we were told, it showed the teacher or adult respect. Now, as a teacher, I find that the same naming conventions still apply in all the schools that I have been asked to teach, and I find myself asking why?
Why do students need to refer to me as Mr Mitchell, in order to show me respect? Students can certainly be disrespectful when referring to me as Mr Mitchell, as I am sure that any secondary teacher can attest to, so why do we force our students to be so formal with us?
This thought randomly though whilst I was working on the series of blog articles reviewing the FutureSchools conference, and I made a short tweet about it, asking what message this sends to our students about respect, and the mutual relationship that we share with each other in the classroom. It is an issue that I believe should be talked about, and I would very much like to hear other people’s opinions on this topic.
The only place, and I hesitate to call it a place, that I’ve heard of students being referred to by their family name is at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizadry, where right from the beginning the students are referred to in writing and in speech, as Mr or Miss [Family Name], whilst the teaching staff are referred to as Professor [Family Name]. This is deemed, according to naming conventions, as showing respect for the other person.
If we demand to be called by our family name, and I’ve never come across a teacher allowing otherwise, as a sign of respect, should we not be showing the same level of respect that we demand for ourselves to our students? Respect, we are told after all, is a two-way street. Further to this point, when successful teaching requires strong teacher-students relationships in the classroom, what message does it send to our students about our level of respect for them when we only refer to them by their given name?
Again, I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.