Should we expect sportsmanship nowadays?

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Shane Warne verbally remonstrates with Marlon Samuels in heated clash in the BBL (Image via Fox Sports)

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Shane Warne, Marlon Samuels, Lance Armstrong, Kurt Tippett – all recent examples of individuals breaking the moral code known as ‘sportsmanship.’

But should we be at all surprised with such occurrences in the 21st century?

Put a foot wrong on a sporting field nowadays, or indeed off it, should you be an elite level sportsperson, and you become public enemy number one.

The level of scrutiny, and at times vitriol, is far more rampant nowadays as a result of the Internet and various forms of social media.

It is akin to being surrounded by accusers cloaked in the robes of the Inquisition.

In the past you had to bother to pick up a pen and paper and write to a newspaper editor or wait on hold to vent your spleen on a talkback radio program.

Nowadays it is as simple as sending out a tweet from whichever electronic device is your current tool of choice.

Somewhat strangely we have this notion that sportsmanship in 2013 should be upheld as it was in the 1950s or any other distant era.

In many ways that belief is based on naivety.

It is actually pushing the boundaries of logic to expect that sport and its participants continue to uphold the fine traditions of behaviour that we have long expected from those on display on various grounds, courts and pitches.

The world has undergone a seismic shift in recent times with regard to the moral code that is deemed to underpin our society.

Let’s journey back to 1980, my last year at school – and yes, I did get all the way to year 12.

I was educated through the public school system in Perth in those dozen years.

And back in year 12, some 33 years ago, life in high school was very different to what it is today.

In my final year at school, I would never have contemplated a classmate calling a teacher an effin’ so-and-so.

And if a fellow student had spat in a teacher’s face, struck them or thrown a chair in their direction I would most likely have gone into a catatonic state.

But, very sadly, those practices are commonplace nowadays.

The Teacher’s Union in Western Australia registers in excess of 1000 complaints each year of a physical or extreme verbal nature against its membership.

Most, if not all of those episodes, simply happen beneath the public radar – unreported and unrecognised by the community at large.

Acts that used to be newsworthy in their infancy now go unreported unless they are of a very extreme nature.

The act of glassing an individual – shoving a glass or glass bottle into someone’s face – used to be an extremely rare occurrence.

In Perth in 2010 it happened on 67 occasions and only a handful made it into the media.

Police stated that the vast majority of the glassing incidents came not as a result of a fight but in response to a verbal altercation – a nice way to get your point across.

The spike in one punch deaths has grown alarmingly in recent times, as have the random assaults where victims are singled out by groups and bashed senseless for no apparent reason, save for their own perverted gratification and entertainment.

All these worrying trends, including an ever-growing disrespect for police officers and others in positions of civil authority, is happening around us every day.

And in the main we have become immune to it.

We merely cast it off as ‘that’s the way things are nowadays’.

Thankfully we have yet to reach the situation in Johannesburg and New York where murders often no longer appear in the first dozen pages of the newspaper.

Here in Australia, and in most first world countries nowadays, we have been consumed by a different way of life where violence, drug use and other serious levels of crime have become almost the norm – it is simply the way life is in the 21st century.

It happens all around us and when it comes to much of the violence and drug related activity it occurs in the precincts that many of our young sportsmen and women inhabit – entertainment and nightclub zones.

Stepping around a bloodied body or crossing the road to avoid being caught up in a physical altercation is commonplace.

We see it, first hand or in the media, and live amongst it every day.
And those same people who now live in this increasingly warped new world also play sport on the weekend.

They do not spend the rest of their time in a sensory deprivation chamber immune from the day-to-day happenings within society.

Much of the moral fabric of our society has changed dramatically over the last couple of decades.

We have been forced to cop and accept it.

Yet, for whatever strange reason, we still expect sport to be played as it always was; with sportsmanship, respect for officialdom and codes of behaviour adhered to.

In these times that we live in that is a rather fanciful belief.

Given the major degradation in our everyday way of life in recent decades why should we expect that the three or so hours where individuals are playing sport will be totally quarantined from the society that surrounds them for the other 165 hours each week?

It is fanciful to consider that if the law of the land and the moral code that was formulated to protect and govern our society for so long is being eroded that it won’t have a potential effect on individuals who cross the white line and enter the realm of sport.

That realm does not sit apart from society. It sits amidst it.

Many of the unsavoury things that we see in sport are often a manifestation of our own communities.

Sport is often dubbed a ‘microcosm of life’, and that being the case, we have to expect that we will see life in all its forms in the sporting arena, both the good and bad.

Perhaps rather than trying to get sportspeople to behave better we as a whole have to try and get society to function better.

Let’s face it, I would rather have someone like Warne verbally abuse me and toss a ball at me underarm than shove a glass in my face.

Yet, when something happens on a sporting field we blow it up so that it takes on a status often accorded a murderer by whacking it on the front page of the newspaper.

A lot of times in life you reap what you sew.

And if what we reap on the playing fields is at times unpalatable it may well be because the general environment isn’t always conducive.

Let’s get life in perspective a little more.

Very few things on a sporting field come anywhere near many of the incidents in society that never make the media.

We are what we have largely made ourselves or allowed ourselves to be made into.

And when it comes to sport there will be a flow on affect.

To think otherwise is neither practical nor sensible.

After 21 years as a sports broadcaster with the ABC, since mid-2011 Glenn Mitchell has been freelancing in the electronic and written media. He is an ambassador for mental health in Australia, and tweets from @mitchellglenn.
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