Let's rewind to sport for sport's sake

DURING my longish stint of filling this space in the Daily, I have on more than one occasion come across a few lines in a fellow columnist's piece that made me wish I had written them ... surely the ultimate compliment.

Such was the case on Monday morning when I gave an inward cheer on reading a piece by Patrick Williams, who wrote: "It's time we all calmed down and started to enjoy sport again. There are plenty of things in life to take seriously, and sport just isn't one of them."

It's a long, long time since I played any team sport, and my record is both undistinguished and undocumented. I seem to remember, though, that my highest level in football was the sixth (or was it the seventh?) fifteen at Toowoomba Grammar and in cricket, as a mediocre leggie for Past Grammars.

I have long since adopted the role of armchair (in)expert. Although far from being addicted to televised team sport, I do enjoy watching closely fought encounters a the highest level whether on the football field (any of the codes), the cricket pitch or the tennis court.

I also admit to a degree of partisanship that is really only a very mild form of the tribalism that lies deep within our genes and sometimes still shows its ugly side in racism and fanaticism, but I watch for fun and entertainment, not for pas son mate.

If my favoured team wins, that's great. If it loses, I don't go looking for a black armband.

My real wish, though, is for a rewind to sport for sport's sake, and my main concern is the decline of sportsmanship as a quality to be both admired and, importantly, learned by children.

Sportsmanship - the term itself now seems a quaint anachronism with, heaven forbid, a touch of sexism.

Perhaps I should call it sportspersonship.

For years now I have been sadly watching the rise of the "win at all costs" approach that now permeates team sport ... right down from the elite level and sometimes even to the sub-teens, with both coaches and parents putting far too much pressure on the players and with umpires coping abuse and even aggression.

Granted, the athletes who choose to make a particular sport their professional career have every reason to train hard and play hard, and good luck to them on the road to fame and a share of the big money that now drives the gargantuan worldwide business of sport. It seems to me, though, that they are unfairly expected to be role models not just in on the field but in life itself.

This modelling can be a powerful force for good; but thanks to human frailty, also just the reverse.

Inevitably, thanks to the immediacy, intensity and accessibility of media coverage, and the relentless media pushing of sport personalities as heroes or villains, kids will do what they do best - imitate adult behaviour.

For every sports hero, however, there are thousands of young Australians who are being indoctrinated to win at all costs.

I am pleased to note, therefore that the Australian Sports Commisson has been urging junior sporting clubs to be less competitive and put more emphasis on fun. This is not a new approach, as some of the various sports have already made progress in this direction.

Long may this continue.