Is sportsmanship dead in professional sport?
I’ve just seen the highlights from the 4th ODI at Sydney and Australia were on the receiving end of two awful umpiring decisions. It’s not the fact that the umpires have made two howlers that has upset me so much, umpires are human and makes mistakes. What I found unacceptable was the fact that the Sri Lankan bowlers appealed for Leg before wicket (LBW) even though there was a very obvious thick edge on both occasions. For the uninitiated a batsman cannot be given out LBW if the ball hits the bat before the batsman’s pad. What I found really galling was the fact that the bowler involved in the 2nd instance, Rangana Herath winked at his team mates when they huddled around to congratulate him ( a la Christiano Ronaldo, when he hoodwinked the ref to get Wayne Rooney dismissed). Replays clearly showed that the ball hit the bat first and it was a terrible umpiring decision, but not as terrible as the fact that Herath had knowingly cheated to gain a wicket.
He is not alone of course and in the world of professional sport it isn’t cheating, it is “Gamesmanship” and the norm rather than the exception.
Sir Alex Ferguson gave an interview this week in which he blames foreign players for the increase in diving in English football, no doubt inspired by Luis Suarez’s admission this week that he deliberately dived against Stoke earlier in the season to win a penalty. Sir Alex should remember the old adage about people who live in glass houses and take a look at some of his own player’s behaviour, especially his English players Ashley Young, Wayne Rooney and Danny Wellbeck who have all been involved in numerous diving controversies in recent seasons. He should further remember that the influx of foreign players in a relatively modern phenomenon and that back in the days when anyone who was born in Scotland, Ireland or Wales was considered a foreigner England internationals Francis Lee and Rodney Marsh were both Olympic class divers.
You only have to look at Southampton’s Jay Rodrigez’s blatant dive last week to realise that the days of Robbie Fowler telling the ref it wasn’t a penalty are long over.
When I was a teenager it was thought of as despicable to dive or play act in an effort to get someone sent off, that was something that South American and Latino teams did and we despised them for it. The idea of a batsman not walking if he had snicked one or trying to claim a catch that had already hit the ground was unthinkable. He would have been ostracised by his team mates and branded a cheat by the opposition, sadly today such practices are common place.
The Lance Armstrong revelations have cast a shadow of cycling, even though Armstrong is from another generation. Mr clean, Carl Lewis was found to have had three failed drugs tests covered up by the USDA, so it’s not new and a dissease that has been insidiously creeping in for years.
So why are today’s sportsmen’s values so different from the Corinthian spirit of the Sixties and the Seventies. The obvious answer is money of course.
As a young man I could go for a drink with the Chelsea players at the local pubs; they may have been stars but they were down to earth people, who weren’t earning a lot more than me. They had better cars of course and nicer houses, but they were accessible. Cricketers were so poorly paid that even international players had to take a part time job during the close season. Athletes beg, stole or buried for decent gear; a sportsman had two bats or two pairs of boots to get him through the season and heaven help him if the boots weren’t predominantly black.
Kerry Packer revolutionised cricket in the mid seventies and suitably rewarded the best players, by the end of the eighties the days of Johnny Haynes as the first £100 a week player were a distant memory. Satellite TV had arrived in this country during the 80s and football was awash with money, the sporting superstar was born and he was finally remunerated accordingly.
With the extra rewards came extra pressure and the old sporting values were slowly eroded. Alan Border instilled a win at all costs attitude and suddenly Australian batsmen didn’t walk, they cruelly sledged batsmen and winning became far more important than sportsmanship. The days of socialising with your local Premier team player was gone, he had been elevated to Hollywood star status and now you can’t even watch your team train as the security at the new training grounds is as tight as a Presidential visit.
Ronaldo refuses to celebrate a goal because he doesn’t feel that his club appreciates him, although I’m sure that his accountant would beg to differ. Kevin Pietersen refuses to play for England as he would rather reap the riches of the IPL.
Maybe I’m living in a fool’s paradise and the advent of modern technology has just exposed the skulduggery that was going on under our noses all the time, but somehow I don’t think so. World records are broken every year, the skill level in the Premiership is higher than ever, and batsmen now have a wider array of shots than ever before. The sports have supposedly improved but so has the level of cynicism, it may be better in some ways, but it’s so much less enjoyable in others.
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