The foundations of sport, part one

Mark Morgan Roar Rookie

By Mark Morgan, Mark Morgan is a Roar Rookie New author!

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    Sport plays a very significant role in world society and culture, especially in Australian society and culture. Whether it should play such a significant role is debatable.

    Arguably sport provides a useful and more socially acceptable outlet for aggression and competitiveness for participants and is supposed to offer participants the opportunity for development of physical and psychological qualities and that can be beneficial for the more important things in life.

    It is certainly open to question as to whether it is reasonable that many elite participants in sport are paid obscene amounts of money for moving fast in various ways; kicking, hitting or throwing balls with great skill; or performing other sporting skills with excellence, while countless millions starve and, for example, teachers and health workers struggle to make ends meet in many countries.

    Sport arguably also provides spectators with a more socially acceptable outlet for aggression, competitiveness and tribalism and in general terms functions as the ‘opiate of the masses’, replacing religion in this role as originally suggested by Karl Marx.

    I do not propose to directly discuss these issues here, but accept for my purposes that rightly or wrongly participation in and watching sport plays a major role in the modern world and in Australian culture.

    Sport’s role and value and how it should be conducted are constantly brought into sharp focus by never-ending scandals involving cheating in its many forms – for example, ball tampering in cricket and performance-enhancing drug usage in many sports – the adjudication and administration of sport and the off-field conduct and post-career struggles of sportspeople. In fact these matters virtually dominate media coverage of sport.

    Lance Armstrong

    (AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Michael Paulsen

    So what are, or should be, the basic foundations of sport? What are the principles and values that should underpin sport in the best interests of the participants and the spectators who watch them?

    The first and overriding principle should be total and unswerving observance of the rules of any sport by its participants, and this should apply whether or not one can get away with breaches or incorrect decisions (yes, batsmen should ‘walk’ when out even though they will occasionally be given out when they weren’t); how an opponent conducts themselves; or any other factor.

    There are no such things as the euphemistically described ‘gamesmanship’ or ‘professional fouls’; there is compliance with the rules (or at least attempted compliance with them) and there is cheating. I accept that participants will occasionally inadvertently break the rules, but deliberate infractions are always completely unacceptable.

    Officials, coaches, captains and fellow team members should be ruthless in penalising, forbidding, and/or discouraging cheating, as applicable, in all their forms and whether they produce an advantageous outcome or not. For example in the football codes, it shouldn’t matter whether foul play by a defender prevented a try or goal being scored, the cheating should be penalised regardless. Likewise, in any sport the extent of the injury caused by violent or potentially injurious foul play shouldn’t matter; the intent or recklessness should be punished accordingly.

    Strict observance of the rules is not only in the best interests of the character development, integrity and dignity of the participant, but also provides spectators with the best opportunity to view a fair contest and have respect for the participants. What is sport without observance of the rules?

    robbie cornthwaite var red card

    (AAP Image/James Elsby)

    Participants should not only demonstrate total observance of the rules but should also at all times conduct themselves in a manner which shows complete respect for officials, opponents, coaches and teammates.

    I refuse to believe (and I have been involved in elite sport as a competitor and a coach) that it is necessary or even advantageous to be violent, abusive, retaliatory or in any way nasty to be successful at the highest levels of sport. Playing ‘good, hard, aggressive cricket’ should mean executing all cricketing skills to the very best of one’s ability and not include intimidation and verbal abuse.

    Many of sport’s greatest exponents – for example, Roger Federer – play or played their sport within ‘the spirit of the game’ and conduct or conducted themselves with grace, dignity and humility. And it is these sportspeople who are remembered with most fondness and respect and leave their sport with the greatest legacy.

    These players also tend to be best adjusted to life after sport and can feel greater satisfaction in their retirement. What possible satisfaction can a true sportsperson gain from success achieved by cheating and/or conduct showing no respect for others involved in the sport?

    The second basic foundation of sport – the pact that all participants have, or should have, with their sport to always engage in it to the very best of their ability for the full duration of the contest – will be addressed in a separate piece.

    Getting hassled by a parent or partner about spending too much time playing video games? Now, you can tell them the story of how some ordinary gamers scored $225k for just seven weeks of work.

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    The Crowd Says (4)

    • June 16th 2018 @ 4:19pm
      Johnno said | June 16th 2018 @ 4:19pm | ! Report

      Good article, I’ve been thinking about this a but recently this sort of stuff about sports importance.. In my view, the most successful athletes are the ones who live a balanced life who don’t put all the eggs into one basket and just be about there sport. It’s too risky, as the failure rate is high in sport and the smart athletes have a plan B away from sport. The ones who fail seem to be the Bernard Tomic types, who are totally dependant on Tennis and nothing else.. They are immature and often have more off field problems as they haven’t developed themselves enough away from tennis.. Guys like Novak played alot of sports not just tennis as is very balanced, Serena williams has other breaks, Rafa has said tennis isn’t everything etc..

    • June 16th 2018 @ 5:31pm
      Onside said | June 16th 2018 @ 5:31pm | ! Report

      Professional sport is a global multi trillion dollar industry .

      As professional sport is entirely profit motivated,it is no
      different at all to any other money making pursuit:none.

    • June 18th 2018 @ 3:35pm
      john lefebvre said | June 18th 2018 @ 3:35pm | ! Report

      I would like to thank Mr Morgan for addressing these issues in such a thoughtful way. An Olympic standard competitor and coach, Morgan can afford to bring into the spotlight issues which many of us punters can only spray about with no truly direct insight as to what GOES ON at atmospheric levels of sport. His successes indicate to me that fair play does not prevent victory. Therefore I totally disagree with Mr Onside that we must surrender to everything scandalous if there is money to be made. It sounds too weak. Walking off the footy field when we were young after a victory, we’d slope off the field patting the opposition on their backs, saying “You’ll win next time.” And it made the full-time oranges even more pleasant.

    • June 19th 2018 @ 1:06pm
      Perry Bridge said | June 19th 2018 @ 1:06pm | ! Report

      Once upon a time a lot of sport was associated with military activity/readiness/training.

      Even the schoolboy sports of English ‘Public’ schools of the 1800s were seen as the embodiment of English ‘Muscular Christianity’ that stood the good British stock of the Empire apart from t’others including the rat bag Americans.

      ‘Social’ sports, club based sports – this was an interesting evolution.

      A sport like cricket, a ‘gentlemans’ game was a clear example of social division – in English circles the ‘gentleman’ batter was the wealthy man of cricketing ‘amateur’ status. The ‘professionals’ tended to be the bowlers – the paid folk seen as the lower classes.

      In England – private ownership of the football clubs as they sprang up was far from uncommon. Quite in keeping with the cultural relics of post feudal England – the Lord of the Manor – and the like – so why not privately owned ‘community’ clubs.

      The Australian context is interesting – whereby the English cricketing ideal had been ‘exported’ to the colonies – and a large part of the equation was that only the upper classes had the time for ‘sport’ other than once a year ‘festival’ days – – the King/Queen’s birthday would see picnics and people engage in athletics, quoits, some form of a game at ‘foot-ball’.

      Until the half day Saturday holiday came into vogue – and generally amongst the ‘white collar’ workers, shops/offices – until then – there was only the holy Sunday day of rest.

      In a land such as Australia – there were not hundred(s) year(s) old institutions (colleges/schools) let alone the Eureka Stockade began a push towards a more egalitarian society.

      Sporting clubs then – the letter of one T.W.Wills suggested the formation of a shooting club or a football club to help keep the cricketers fit – to aid in the defence of the Colony of Victoria (should the pesky Russians sail in seeking to reap the gold from the alluvial minefields of central Vic around Ballarat etc).

      The establishment of football clubs at this point – NOT associated with schools – was a very new thing. In England the cricketers of Sheffield penned their own football rules (1858) – the folk in London tried to create a single set for all (1862/63) but this only saw those preferring the Rugby school style of handling games go off to create their own body and rules (RFU 1871), and the London FA really was a feeble entity until the effective merge with the Sheffield FA which was complete by about 1877. After which – it was not long before private ownership became the norm.

      So – what was the foundation principle of these new community clubs? In Melbourne – the MFC was initially formed for members of the MCC but soon opened to all. Clubs sprang up around the ‘metropolis’ and surrounding country towns.

      The principle behind the original Melb rules of 1859 was based on experimentation in 1858 with the school boy rules of such English institutions as Rugby, Harrow, Winchester and Eton. A rule set needed to be established that would allow men and youths to play a game, and the adage “Black eyes don’t look good on Collins Street” a real reminder that adults have real world jobs to return to. That sport should be more about the fun and fitness of the participants.

      This was the beginning in particular of football as an adult pass-time. Of rules set to facilitate the enjoyment of participants. The English Rugby school game was fine for students and romanticized in Tom Brown’s School Days.

      From these early ‘foundations’ – we quickly got such diversions off track as the English Northern Union Rugby split – based on the different attitude of the ‘professional’ working classes as against the ‘amateur’ upper classes.

      Was sport for fun? for participation? for fitness? or – – for financial reward.

      The two Rugby codes presented proof for over 100 years of the voracity of the debate!!

      So – is the foundation principle instead based on the rules alone. I don’t really think so.

      We also saw crowds come, spectators and critics alike, and media coverage. Some codes modified rules rather greatly to ensure ‘appeal’ – the Rugby games both evolved away from a goal kicking game to a try scoring game – that was pretty major. That was in part because of the ‘entertainment’ aspect.

      As a consequence – we have a variety of ‘stakeholders’ – the players, the organizers, the spectators, the punters and these days the broadcasters.

      Perhaps the group with the greatest interest in the rules being 100% adhered to are…..the punters!!!

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