Sports

Tampering scandal points to all that’s ugly in Australian sport

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What a week.

What a loathsome, self-serving, embarrassing, nasty, wretch of a week.

What a desperately sad week.

There's little point to continue to rake over the entrails of cricket's ball-tampering saga — tragedy is probably a better word. No doubt hundreds of thousands of words have been written, while everyone has had a view on the cheating, the lying, the greed, shame and humiliation that have been on extremely public display since last Sunday.

So, to step back for a moment and think of the bigger picture; can any good come of an episode which has possibly ended careers, killed the love of a game and forced cricket to take a massively hard look at itself?

The cheating and lying that was central to the ball-tampering episode — and by extension the desperate need to win at all costs — points to something that has been severely lacking in Australian sport in recent years and possibly decades:

Civility.

Whether it be elite professional sportsmen and women doing anything to gain an edge or even aged weekend warriors seeking to damage an opponent, secure in the anonymity of a suburban sporting field, we have lost sight of the very meaning of what sport is about.

Sport is just a game. On the one hand a sporting contest is basically meaningless. No one dies, no one's at war. On the other hand, sport provides enormous entertainment, it has the ability to inspire, to give us a glimpse of greatness and to engender powerful emotions.

And at the heart of the sporting contest is the idea of fairness and civility. We embrace the even contest, where one competitor can beat another by virtue of their greater skill.

We shake the hand of the winner, congratulate them and celebrate the effort that everyone has made. This is fundamental to what we try to teach our kids when we tell them it's not about winning or losing, it's how you play the game.

We Australians like to kid ourselves that we're tough but fair, that we don't cross the mythical line.

It's the others who are the cheaters, the drug-takers, the thugs. But we all know that's rubbish. Australian sport has long been full of ugly examples of a win-at-all-costs attitude.

Cheating, violence, the use of performance-enhancing drugs, sledging, racism and other forms of vilification: You'll find it in any sport at any level.

Elite professional sport is at heart an entertainment product, it's a business and literally billions of dollars are at stake.

But once one team cheats, or a player abuses or vilifies another, sport loses its charm, its essence, its meaning. It's no longer sport as we want it. It's just a means to a win, and that in and of itself is hollow if it's falsely won.

Cricket Australia is right now counting the costs in millions that the tampering affair is costing it in lost sponsorships and a massively reduced rights deal.

Which isn't to say all Australian sport is rotten. We have many examples of successful teams winning and competing without reverting to dubious tactics.

The Australian women's soccer team is one of the outstanding examples of a team forging a path through skill and dedication.

And so, here's my plea to Australia's professional sports men and women, to the weekend warriors, to the kids playing school and junior sport:

Next time you try to fool the ref that the ball came off your opponent last when you know it was you, next time you scrape a cricket ball, next time you get in a coward's punch or land a late tackle, next time you abuse someone, next time you feel you need to do anything beyond using your fitness, strength and skill to get an edge, just stop and pause.

Maybe you don't need to.

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