So, the Aussie cricketers have come, and they’ve gone… in so many more ways than just one.
To set the scene post Newlands and it’s SandpaperGate: after the last ball had been bowled in the recently drawn second Test between New Zealand and England, the smiling, embracing and handshaking foes thanked each other for the game.
“You see, it can be done,” a commentator said.
You can play hard and tough and still be decent, respectful.
England were not exactly thrilled. The black caps held on for a grim draw with just two wickets standing when stumps were drawn at the end of a tough ‘ol fifth day. Yet, there were hugs. Outstretched hands and an appreciative look into the next fellow’s eyes.
But the point the commentator had made was poignant and a stark reminder that cricket is and always will be just a game.
Back on home soil Faf and his lads showed that too. Ruthless, uncompromising and ultimately victorious. Yet, not with that edge of nastiness that for so long has been an Aussie trademark. And please, this is not an exercise in having a go at the men in white from down under. It is rather a look at how sport can take itself too seriously. How the attitude in and around sports teams can consume to the point of self-destruction, like Steve Smith’s team ultimately did.
Having just finished a 10th year of MC-ing and announcing at the St John’s Easter Rugby Festival it was so glaringly obvious out on the emerald green fields. The lads were there to play hard, sometimes brutal, ruthless rugby, but not at the cost of the game. The tackles were bone crunching. The crash ball was just that. The running down the wing – as fast as it could be, but not at the risk of demeaning the game of rugby. Two scuffles in 18 senior school games. Just two with all that testosterone bouncing and hurtling around!
There is currently a viral social media post doing the rounds in which a young runner, closing in on the leading woman athlete, notices that the leader is unsteady on her feet. The younger athlete veers over, stops and helps the collapsing lead runner up several times until the race long leader gets hauled up to her feet one final time to reach for and finally, agonisingly, breaks the tape.
There aren’t many instances of this type of behaviour these days. It’s limited. And I believe getting less all the time. When (most of us) compete there is a red mist that descends on those who have that competitive streak; in so-doing, losing all perspective of what is right and wrong.
Pope John Paul II once said: “Sport contributes constructively to the harmonious and complete development of man, body and soul.”
But modern-day society, the one we live in, has made it something else completely. Pro sport has become big business, money generating, narcissistic, accepted (and sometimes expected) egotistical behaviour, mass adulation and unqualified role models “grace” prime time sports today.
This in turn invites moral decadence, corruption, cheating, the breaking of rules, unethical thinking and behaviour and the all encompassing, pervasive culture of win-at-all-cost.
Moral values and spiritual virtues are strangled to death in an instant when there is this inevitable pursuit of self – at the cost of the fellow competitor. Team mate too is sacrificed. This, in and of itself, is so completely counterproductive in a team that it is mind-boggling. If you live and die on winning at any cost, you are fostering a value system that does not care for the furtherment of the team, but for the glory of the individual. Team cannot come first in this milieu. The singular does. And in so doing everything that makes up a team is destroyed.
Think just for a second. No, better than that: put yourself in this scenario.
You are picked for a team. Something you’ve worked hard your whole life to achieve. You are the number two in your position, and you know (if you are really honest with yourself, in your heart of hearts) that your rival for this spot on the team is just a tad better than you. He or she is ensconced in the starting line-up.
Your team plays three Tests on tour. You never even get to put a foot on the field of play. Yet, you practise hard. As hard as you can. You help your rival for the spot on the team every day with passing, catching, throwing, bowling. Whatever it was. You were there. Literally boots and all! You cajoled, carried water, suggested plays in the team room and were a dynamo of energy in and around the team. Sacrificed your own goals in order for the team to be successful.
You come back home and the clean sweep that the squad achieved is a record. Banners at the airport. Features in magazines, TV and radio interviews. This victory is yours as much as the person who competed in “your” spot on the team. You were a part of it in every way except on the field. Your presence made the collective better, stronger, faster.
But it’s tough to think that way. Our society runs on instant gratification. Now, here, immediately.
Is there an answer to this? Probably not. As long as greed, ego and self override the goodness in every heart. No. Unequivocally so. But that is also probably the key. The heart. How often do you hear of an athlete who “has heart”? Is it in the right place? In other words, where is its culture? Its distinction between right and wrong, its moral rev counter?
Our wiring is more twisted every day when we are put at risk on the sports field. You see, there can be no winners if there are no losers. Even this term – loser – has become a swear word.
Yet, we lose every day. And we win every day. But ultimately for the sake of this story, our sakes and our children’s sake: sport should win, shouldn’t it? DM