Tuesday, 18 August 2009

It's Just Not Cricket!

Something has happened to sport these days.
While it was always the preserve of the gentleman, the Victorian era saw an expansion of this most British of activities. Driven by moral and social purpose, churchmen and visionaries of all persuasions launched movements to bring sport to the masses. Not just sport for its own sake, though, but for the changes it brought. Physical health apart, sport was seen as a way to benefit society and the wider world by improving the character of those who played. Virtues like discipline and self-reliance, co-operation and teamwork, a sense of justice and fair play and respect for the rules became the hallmarks of 'sportsmalike behaviour' and were upheld as readily by the coal miner and street urchin as the rich country gent. Wherever the British went they sought to instil the sporting ethos, and even today in many corners of the globe underhand conduct will still provoke outraged cries of "It's just not Cricket!"
How things have changed.
Today we have athletes cheating to improve their performance, financial corruption in governing bodies, the famous rants of John McEnroe against the umpire, spoiled and pouting superstars brawling outside nightclubs and so-called supporters whose main contribution is to violently hate and verbally abuse the opposition. Small wonder, then, that Rugby player Tom Williams staggered from the field with blood pouring from his mouth in the Heineken Cup on 12 April this year. Shocking, you may say; but what's more shocking is that Williams, in collusion with his coach and the team physiotherapist had faked the injury using theatrical blood so that specialist kicker Nick Evans could return to the field in the dying seconds of the game to take a crucial shot. We truly seem to have lost the essence of sportsmanship, but this incident along with many others shows there's something deeper we've lost sight of as well.
We've forgotten how to lose.
Think about it; last time you took your son or daughter to a sporting event and your team lost, how did you respond? Did you say "Well son, they played an excellent game today. We did our best but they deserved to win; let's go have a burger." Or did you rail against the stupid decisions of the 'blind' and 'biased' referee, berate the unfairness of the opposition's 'luck' while your team made all the play and blame that crucial goal on a freak gust of wind or a misplaced clod of earth? Did you even, perish the thought, accuse the other team of cheating or unsportsmanlike behaviour?
What sort of mindset will a child develop when he hears that kind of thing, game after game, from one of the most influential people in his life? What sort of adult will he grow up to be? He'll think that winning is all that matters, that the end justifies the means, and when the wheels do come off the train he won't have a clue how to deal with it.
Our example shapes the next generation. So let's teach our children to honour the achievements of others, to keep on trying and not fall prey to bitterness or cancerous self-pity. It may seem a paradox, but if we truly want our children to win in life then we desperately need to teach them how to lose.

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