The importance of Sportsmanship in modern sport
Have you ever played on despite knowing the ball went out? Ever blocked an opponent off the ball? Attempted to put off an opponent by saying something to them? Argued with a referee? Then you are part of the sportsmanship debate.
Sportsmanship revolves around the moral and ethical aspects of your participation in sport, and is a much debated topic in recent times.
It incorporates aspects of:
- -Fair Play
- -Respecting the Rules
- -Respecting Opponents and Officials
- -Graciousness in Defeat and Victory
While the majority of sportspeople strive to play their respective sports in a sporting manner, there are many who attempt to exploit ambiguities in the rules and utilise any advantages they can gain. They will argue that they are still performing within the rules, and so are not doing anything wrong. However, whether or not they are within the rules, is different from displaying good sportsmanship and playing within the spirit of the game.
There have been many examples of questionable sportsmanship recently within professional sports.
Even within the last couple of weeks, we have seen examples of major sportspeople displaying questionable sportsmanlike conduct. In her Australian Open Semi-Final match against young American tennis star Sloane Stevens, Victoria Azarenka called a medical timeout when Stevens was serving to stay in the match at 5-4 down in the second set. Azarenka proceeded to spend 10 minutes off court getting treatment. When she returned, Stevens momentum had gone and she lost the match 6-2 6-4.
While on the surface it would appear that Azarenka took a legitimate medical time-out, her comments after the match seemed to suggest she had taken the medical timeout to compose herself:
"Well, I almost did the choke of the year. At 5-3, having so many chances I couldn't close it out. I just felt a little bit overwhelmed. I realized I'm one step away from the final and nerves got into me for sure"
These quotes call into question the ethics of her timeout. While it was technically within the rules, if she did take it purely to compose herself then this displays very poor sportsmanship and would be a clear example of exploiting the rules for your own benefit. However, it is important to note that she has since argued that she was receiving treatment for a trapped rib.
Last Wednesday we saw an incident in the Chelsea v Swansea Carling Cup Semi-Final that has called the sportsmanship of football into serious question. There were ten minutes remaining, with Chelsea needing to score twice to take the game to extra time. It was at this point that a 17 year old Swansea ball boy took matters into his own hands. He proceeded to lie on top of the ball, preventing Eden Hazard from retrieving the ball quickly and speeding up play. While this act in itself was remarkable, Hazards response was even more remarkable. He proceeded to kick the ball out from underneath the ball boy, connecting cleanly with the ball which shot out from under the ball boy. While in normal circumstances this incident would be seen as stupid, the reaction of the ball boy escalated its’ seriousness. He grimaced, rolled around and screamed as if Hazard had kicked him in the ribs. The fact that this ball boy had earlier that day tweeted that he planned to waste time and slow the game down only added to the fire and called his morals even more into question.
It is a perfect example of poor sportsmanship from both parties involved. The ball boy displayed a complete disregard for the spirit of the game, while Hazard should have shown better restraint and shown a better understanding of his position as a global role model.
The ball boys actions of rolling around on the floor and feigning injury in order to get a player in trouble highlight a wider issue within football. It appears commonplace for players to roll around on the floor after a tackle, take a quick look up at the ref to see if he has given the foul, and then continue writhing in pain. Recent El Classico games, between Barcelona and Real Madrid; arguably the biggest game in World Football, have been tainted by play acting, diving and bad sportsmanship. Should such amazing spectacles be being ruined by the gamesmanship of the players themselves?
Even in sports such as cricket, which has an excellent reputation for sportsmanship, sledging is commonplace. This is when the nearest fielders to the batsman make comments to psyche them out. Does this display bad sportsmanship or is it just part of the game?
While there are many examples of bad sportsmanship, which seem to dominate column inches and discussions, it is important to also highlight some examples of good sportsmanship.
During the 2005 Ashes series, where England won back the famous Urn for the first time since 1987, Andrew Flintoff, England's talismanic all-rounder and fiercest competitor, displayed one of the most memorable moments of sportsmanship in recent times. Australia, closing in on a memorable and damaging win in the second Test, were bowled out just two runs short of victory. Upon winning, the entire England team went crazy, celebrating madly with each other, except from Flintoff. Flintoff walked straight over to Brett Lee, who was crouched down, head in hands in despair, and shook his hand, congratulated him on the epic fight he had put up and consoled him; A remarkable display of sportsmanship and being gracious in victory. (View the Video Below – Skip to 1.00 mins)
In 2000, Paulo Di Canio of West Ham passed up the opportunity to score a goal by catching the ball, because the Everton goalkeeper Paul Gerrard was on the floor injured. He was later commended by Fifa for his actions, receiving the Fifa Fair Play Award, for a “Special act of good sportsmanship”. (View the Video Below).
It appears we have reached a place in modern sport where examples of good sportsmanship are something to be celebrated and highlighted, rather than being accepted as commonplace or indeed expected. The fact that Tour De France winner and Olympic Gold Medal cyclist, Bradley Wiggins, has gained the nickname ‘Le Gentlemen’, after he slowed down the racers in the Tour De France after a number of his key rivals for the yellow jersey had experienced punctures due to spectators sabotaging the race by throwing pins onto the course emphasises this perfectly. While he could have pressed home his advantage and extended his lead over one of his key rivals, he chose to slow the race down to allow those affected to regain contact with his group. After the race Wiggins commented,
“I thought it was the honourable thing to do, nobody should ever profit by somebody’s misfortune like that.”
The fact that he has been celebrated for his actions and branded ‘Le Gentleman Wiggins’, emphasises the fact that good sportsmanship is now not commonplace within sport. It should be a given that any competitor would carry out the same actions as Wiggins in this situation. Sadly this is just not the case in the current climate. It should be that examples of bad sportsmanship are the exceptions to the rule, not the norm.
Does Sportsmanship matter though?
There will always be arguments over whether bending the rules to win is acceptable in sport and whether perfect sportsmanship is an achievable goal in modern sport. It is also clear that there are different levels of sportsmanship. While Sledging in cricket may be accepted as a part of modern day cricket, the growth of diving and play acting in football should not be accepted as part of the game. Good sportsmanship is something that should be strived for at all times. However, given the monetary gains available for victory, it is increasingly being side-lined in the quest for victory in professional sport. In a day and age when sports have such a global reach and influence over people’s behaviour, a renewed focus on improving the values of sportsmanship within both professional and amateur sports is crucial.
What are your views on Sportsmanship? Should a win at any costs attitude be accepted or should we be aiming for perfect sportsmanlike conduct?
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