Is there no excuse for excuses in sport?
119 Have your say
Wallabies Spring Tour squad 2011(AAP Image/Patrick Hamilton)
OK, so the Wallabies lost. To Scotland. For the second time in a row. A year after going down to Samoa. So yes, the Wallabies appear to have some major problems with the first game of the year, and also in playing poor European teams.
It’s a little bit embarrassing.
For them I mean, not for me, because I’m lucky enough to have stopped playing competitive rugby when I was 21 in favour of a career in over-eating.
So, fortunately I dodged the bullet of being a highly-paid international rugby star that could have ruined my life. Maybe.
The point is, in the aftermath of this tryless humiliation, I was reading an article on the match, and it mentioned how the Australians did, in fact, have a few excuses – the ridiculous itinerary which forced them to play midweek tests, thus necessitating an under-strength team; the nightmarish, almost Scottish conditions that turned the field into a pond and caused Will Genia to lose feeling in his fingers, and so on.
And in the comments of this article was one reader putting in his two cents’ worth, who used that well-worn phrase:
And it made me think: excuses are quite unfashionable in the modern game. Players will say there are no excuses. Reporters will list the potential excuses, before emphasising that there are no excuses. And the Coaches’ Code demands that a coach never make excuses.
Hey, it was eleven/thirteen/fifteen/eighteen against eleven/thirteen/fifteen/eighteen. If you go on the field, you’re fit to play. Both sides had the same conditions to contend with.
You gotta take it on the chin.
It is agreed throughout the sporting universe. A loss is a failure of will, skill or nerve. There is never any excuse.
OK. So when are we going to get honest and admit that this is all bollocks? We all know there are excuses. Often they are good excuses. Sometimes they are great excuses. There are times when excuses are so compelling that frankly everyone involved with the losing team should be completely absolved from blame.
So OK, take the Wallabies. Not their finest hour, Tuesday night. But are we seriously saying that the only thing militating against them was their own lack of effort and composure, and maybe a dogged and determined bunch of Scots? Are we saying the absurdly short preparation, the absence of key players, the hideous weather conditions that made running rugby stupidly difficult, all played no part whatsoever?
That on a dry track, with a full week’s prep, a full-strength team full of players who hadn’t had to play the preceding weekend, Australia would still have gone down to that Scotland side?
The fact is, we know that any fair assessment of sport recognises there are plenty of excuses flying about, and it’s about time we acknowledged them. St Kilda lost the 1997 grand final, with their All-Australian ruckman Peter Everitt out injured. That was an excuse.
New Zealand lost the 1995 Rugby World Cup Final after half their team came down with food poisoning. An excellent excuse. For decades touring teams went to Pakistan and were fired out by outrageously biased umpires, and that was their excuse for winning. You’re telling me there wouldn’t have been a few more visiting victories if Pakistan had only been playing with eleven men instead of thirteen?
Injuries, illness, officials, weather and flat-out bad luck all play a huge role in sporting success, and it’s just a denial of reality to claim that there should be no excuses, as if every sportsman’s destiny is entirely in his own hands.
Remember the most sickening sports injury of recent times, Nathan Brown’s broken leg in 2005? Matthew Whelan fell on Brown’s leg, which took a revoltingly Dali-esque 90 degree turn. It should be noted that when the leg broke, Richmond, those perennial losers, were sitting at 7-2, and in the top 4, and Brown had been in spectacular form.
They only won three more games for the season without him – don’t you think that maybe that horrific turning point might count as just a tiny bit of an excuse? I mean, just looking at that injury on slow-motion replay would have been enough to make a man give up football, or at least television.
The history of every sport is a story of inspirational triumphs, gallant defeats, ecstatic victory and agonising defeat, but it is also a story of people who, after losing, were quite within their rights to say, “Well, what did you expect?” Sometimes fate takes a hand, and sometimes fate is a complete prick.
So I would like to call for the sporting world in general to be a bit more upfront, a bit more honest about the excuses they have every right to make. Everyone should feel free to call out the crummy hand they were dealt before a game, the strokes of horrible luck that put them behind the eight-ball from the start.
And next time a captain or coach starts to explain away defeat, it is not with a curled-lip sneer that we should say, “Oh he’s just making excuses”, but with an understanding nod that we should say, “He’s making excuses…and fair enough too.”
Excuses. We all have them. Let’s admit it.
Ben Pobjie is a writer and comedian writing weekly on The Age, New Matilda and The Roar, whose promising rugby career was tragically cut short the day he stopped playing rugby and had a pizza instead. The most he has ever cried was the day Balmain lost the 1989 grand final. Today he enjoys the frolics of Wallabies, Swans, baggy greens, and Storms. Ben is also the author of the books Surveying the Wreckage, Superchef, and his latest, The Book of Bloke, available from Momentum Books.
Sport, all day long. Does this sound too good to be true? We're searching for a Group Sales Manager to lead our team in Sydney. If you're a sales star who doesn't mind a hit, kick, throw, or cycle, we want to hear from you. Apply now.