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Thursday / July 7.
HomemitwocentsWe’re all Good Sports, Aren’t We?

We’re all Good Sports, Aren’t We?

Geoff Lawson says in the highly competitive world in which we operate, it’s best to step back and remember that regardless of where our business or sports endeavours take us, we must remain civilised and retain our humanity.

Sometimes I watch the way people around me behave in sport and business and I despair. It seems that we often get so carried away by the need for success – to get runs on the board – that we forget to respect one another as individuals.

I had the goggle box tuned in the other day and, much to the chagrin of the wife, found myself in a more frenetic channel surfing mode than usual. It seemed there were almost more sports being played than available channels. As a sports coaching and commentating professional, watching TV is just like undergoing CPD – without the need to leave the lounge room and with the luxury of an occasional bonus cup of tea and a bikkie. My subscription to the major pay television network is invaluable when doing my homework on cricket played around the globe.

Other sports I’ve been able to watch while doing my ‘homework’ have included the baseball play offs, Rugby World Cup and the Aussie footy finals of all codes. Then there’s golf from various points on the planet, athletics, cycle racing, motor sports – both two and four wheels, tennis, including the Davis Cup rubber just down the road at Royal Sydney Golf Club and of course there was cricket from England, India, West Indies and South Africa – in any given weekend, there really are very few blank spots.

We want our guys and girls to do well, hopefully win, but
at the same time we appreciate the efforts and ambitions of the foe…

Sports Minded Nations

Australia has the reputation of being a sports-minded nation. Throughout most parts of the country, our climate is so good that we feel compelled to get outside and play. Even in Melbourne, where the weather can be unkind, sport is high on the agenda. Actually, our southern state has the deserved reputation as the World’s Ultimate Sports City.

Melburnians love nothing better than to wrap up in their winter woollies and head down to the ‘ G’ to watch their favourite Aussie Rules teams run around when the temperature drops to single figures and the forecast is for rain.

The crowd at this year’s AFL Grand Final was only a few hundred under 100,000! They kept warm by huddling together, shouting encouragement to their teams and abusing the opposition and umpires. It’s a wonderful tradition.

Sport is undeniably ingrained in the fibre of our culture (despite the fact that we’re constantly threatened by video games and the newer generation’s penchant for exercise through the TV monitor and associated devices).

Sportsmanship

I like to think Australians (not every single one of us, but certainly the vast majority), are ‘good sports’. We want our guys and girls to do well, hopefully win, but at the same time we appreciate the efforts and ambitions of the foe. Sport is played ‘between the lines’ – an enemy during game time becomes a friend or at least a respected opponent when the bell sounds or the full time siren sings.

When our national teams compete we barrack for them unreservedly but no matter what the outcome, most of the time, we are gracious in victory and defeat. This brings me to arguably the biggest sporting event to have occurred this year – the Rugby World Cup – played out just across the ditch in another nation where sport is a serious part of its psyche.

Rugby and the All Blacks are synonymous. The national sport of New Zealand is, without question, Rugby Union. In a country of just over four million (less than the population of Victoria) the goal of every young boy is to become an All Black.

As New Zealand went into the World Cup, the history of 24 failed challenges (since winning the inaugural event back in 1987) hung around the national neck like a giant fetid albatross. The pressure on the All Blacks to win this time round was enormous – not only because a win was expected, but also because in the wake of the Christchurch Earthquake, the Pike River coal-mine disaster and the grinding economy, the country was in need of a giant boost. This was the national game’s chance to lift the country’s morale.

The pressure was expressed more off the field than on. Professional sportspeople are generally attuned to the mental downsides of their competition and have developed coping mechanisms. More often than not they have psychologists on staff to deal with ‘pressure’, which after all is an internal phenomenon.

However for those on the sidelines – the supporters (read entire population of NZ) – cannot be ameliorated by a collection of psychologists. Consequently, the Australian team was booed at every venue, and some individuals were targeted by crass behaviour because they dared challenge, niggle or ‘disrespect’ the local heroes by not kowtowing to the All Black jersey.

This was not behaviour that you’d expect of ‘good sports’… but neither was the behaviour exposed at the NRL Grand Final when a personal feud publicly erupted between a player and his boss.

Effective public relations could quietly have buried this feud, allowed the team to revel in its tremendous accomplishment and be recognised for its hard work (in Manly-Warringah’s case it could even have turned a generation of ill will on its head). Instead the bad blood continues and the player’s on-field accomplishments remain tarnished.

Sport in the 20th and 21st century is often referred to as a new form of tribalism. That means we compete in non-lethal fashion – it’s about bragging rights not scalps. With this in mind, we need to remember that we are civilised – we need to retain our humanity, even when our national
pride may be at stake.

Geoff Lawson OAM is a qualified optometrist and an ambassador for Optometry Giving Sight. He is a former Australian Cricketer and the former coach of the Pakistan cricket team. In 1990 he received an OAM for services to cricket and in 2002 was given the Australian Sports Medal.

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