Three things in sport that are more important than ball tampering

ball tamperingThe ball-tampering incident provides an example of sports news becoming the news. In this case it is also an example, yet again, of trivial and predictable behaviour in sport unworthy of either the moral panic generated or sustained media coverage. First, ball tampering in cricket is virtually commonplace (cricket fans here in the UK would do well to remember the actions and admissions of Michael Atherton and Marcus Trescothick, respectively) to the point where the ball tampering is considered a level two, of four, offence in the International Cricket Council’s Code of Conduct. Second, while the cheating Australian players have gained notoriety well-beyond cricketing circles a number of their countrymen who have committed serious crimes remain virtually unknown.

Here, then, are three sports stories deserving of not only more coverage than ball tampering but also more coverage than they received, period.

  1. Duty of Care Failings: Aly Raisman lawsuit

The 2017 Independent Report to the Government on Duty of Care in Sport highlighted a number of shortcomings in British sport. Similar independent and police investigations of duty-of-care failings in British Olympic sports are on going, which includes British Bobsleigh and Skeleton Association, Archery GB, British Swimming, and GB Taekwando. British Cycling faced allegations of sanitising the report of its “culture of fear” while grooming and sexual assault allegations are still under investigation in British Canoeing. In the wake of the allegations that resulted in the conviction of Barry Bennell, Operation Hydrant, as of December 2017, reports 839 victims of child sexual abuse in football, 294 alleged suspects across 334 football clubs. All these cases require greater attention. Of particular importance, though, is Aly Raisman’s (six-time Olympic medallist who went public with her allegations against Larry Nassar and was one of the 156 women who gave testimony at his sentence hearing) lawsuit against USA Gymnastics and United States Olympic Committee (USOC). Raisman’s action gets to the very heart of why bullying and sexual abuse are rife in sport: poor governance practice, internal power dynamics, and refusal to accept any limits in the pursuit of performance. Raisman’s lawsuit seeks to hold the USOC and USA Gymnastics to account for creating “a culture and atmosphere that conceals known and suspected sexual abusers.” In short, attending to the systemic problems in sport that create both the opportunities for abuse, bullying, and sexual assault and ensuing failure to act.

  1. Environmental Costs: Gariwang Tree Felling

Sport has an enormous impact on our environment. Obvious examples include motorsport and golf. Mega-events such as World Cup tournaments and the Olympics also take a huge environmental toll despite promises to the contrary. For example, a key platform of Rio de Janeiro’s Olympic bid was the capture and treatment of sewage flowing into Guanabara Bay. A promise still as yet undelivered.  Organisers of the 2018 Pyeongchang Games described their plan was to use “the most advanced, environmentally friendly strategies” making the event one of “Green Dreams.” Yet, in preparation of the Alpine skiing courses, 58,000 trees on Mount Gariwang, including some between 500 and 1,000 years old, were felled by the lifting of a “Protected Area for Forest Genetic Resource Conservation” order. While officials claim the forest can be restored after the Games, environmentalists and forestry experts alike say replacement is impossible. The area is one of a handful of sites to escape massive deforestation in Korea as the result 20th Century war and industrialisation making it an area of importance for biodiversity generally as well as protected and endangered species specifically. It is also worth considering the environmental as well as economic cost associated with the construction of the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium. The 35,000-seat stadium that cost $109 million to build is being destroyed after being used for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics and Winter Paralympics. That’s right, the stadium was used four times.

  1. Sexism and Objectification of Athletes: World Surf League

Coverage of female athletes pales in significance to that of males. When female athletes do receive media coverage often their family or marital roles are given at least as much, if not greater, prominence that their athletic achievements. For example, when Laura Kenny, the most successful female British Olympian of all-time, was referred to as little more than Jason Kenny’s pregnant wife in The Sunday Times. Similarly, while both male and female athletes are objectified and sexualised, female athletes in particular are faced with judgement against conventional beauty norms that are not only unrealistic but contradict the physical requirements of their sport. Furthermore, research shows frequent use of sexually suggestive camera angles and shot composition in women’s sport. That’s why we should celebrate the World Surf League’s (WSL) instructions to cinematographers at surf competitions to not zoom in on female athletes bums during manoeuvres. The appointment of Sophie Goldschmidt as WSL CEO also makes them part of the 7% of Fortune 1000 companies with a female CEO. As Stab magazine comments, this marks significant progress towards gender equality in all parts of the surf operation (except competitive winnings).

These are just three examples. There are many, many issues in sport that deserve greater attention from our media and a more prominent part in our conversations. Other issues include: child trafficking in football; health, safety, and human rights abuses on stadia construction sites; on going protests and athlete activism in US sports; US College Sport generating about $13 billion per year, including annual salaries of up to $7 million for coaches and $2 million for administrators, yet players are unpaid; and the perpetual failure to deliver on Olympic and Commonwealth Games legacy promises as just some of the issues which should never be far from the sporting headlines.

Put simply, whether we like it or not sport and politics mix. Sport usually becomes the lead story as a result of cheating, which, research suggests, will always be a part of sport when the primary goal is winning. Issues like those above, however, need not be part of the world of sport or indeed society. As such, they deserve not only our ire but also considered focus and attention if we hope to make progress towards more inclusive sporting worlds. Considering the state of sport and what we deem acceptable therein also lets us consider what kind of society we are and the kind of society we want to be.

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Kass Gibson

Kass has taught in schools, colleges, and universities in New Zealand, Japan, Canada, and the United Kingdom. At the University of St Mark and St John he teaches research methods, social theory, and pedagogy on Physical Education, Sports Science, Coaching, and Public Health degree programmes.

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