Sports Opinion

Let the fans have their say

July 10 -16, 2019

Gulf Weekly Let the fans have their say

Just as in our day to day lives, rules and laws dominate how we act and what we can do within any given sport. They are designed to keep the game fair, the athletes honest and the spectacle enticing for the fans.

We often associate the rules with being black and white; here’s what you can do, here’s what you can’t and here are the consequences for not abiding to the aforementioned. Most sports, however, have a gray area; a point at which the collective fan base goes ‘ah, I’m not sure about that’. There are normally one or two events of that ilk throughout the year in the world of sport, for those well-versed in their idioms it’s this blurred line that is the derivation of the saying “that’s just not cricket!”

It’s an act that isn’t against the rules but is outside the perceived spirit of the game. In a world where athletes are paid vast sums of money to win, is the onus upon the athlete to tiptoe the line or is it upon the governing body to clarify where things stand or somewhere else?

On the one hand, athletes know roughly where the line is and whether they like it, asked for it or wanted it. The price of being a famous sportsperson is that they are role models. It could be argued they have a duty to play in the right spirit as they represent their sport and its values. They are what future generations will look to as guidelines for ability and behavioural standards. On the other hand, authorities are there to enforce rules. As mentioned previously, the athletes are there to win. If something happens which creates a blurred line, they have the power to clarify or create a rule. Governing bodies also know though, that a blurred line can create notorious players and notoriety can be good for interest.

Nick Kyrgios is a prime example of this notoriety. In the match versus Rafael Nadal, Kyrgios pulled out his trademark underarm serve twice and proceeded, by his own admission, to spend a portion of the match abandoning trying to beat Nadal in the ‘normal’ fashion, instead opting to try and hit him in the chest.

Are they the actions of a sporting role model? Almost certainly not! Nonetheless, I bet the next time Kyrgios plays Nadal there will be a spike in viewing. His reputation creates a form of excitement, for a man that currently sits ranked 43 in the world and has never broken the top 10. His name would be quicker off the tongue than most of his peers. None of the tennis governing bodies are going to clamour for something that will ultimately negatively affect them, so   should they be making a decision or even passing judgment on it? Personally, I love the underarm serve. It’s a bluff that takes real skill to execute. However, attempting to hit an opponent in the chest is what I can’t get on board with in the same way. Ultimately, there are probably many opinions on both incidents.

Athletes pushing boundaries tends to be how original laws were created anyway. In 1981, a cricket match between Australia and New Zealand in the final of the World Series Cup was the location for potentially the most unsporting act of all time. Australian Trevor Chappell bowled the last ball underarm along the ground to New Zealand batsman Brian McKechnie. With New Zealand needing a six from the last ball to tie the match, Greg Chappell, Australian captain and Trevor’s brother, decided to order the underarm delivery to deny New Zealand any chance of tying the match, let alone winning.

The outcry was huge. The NZ Prime Minister at the time, Robert Mullodon called it the “most disgusting act I can recall in the history of cricket.” The International Cricket Council acted swiftly and banned the underarm delivery but the disdain for Chappell lives on. Is this entirely fair? He was tasked with winning the game for his country and he found a perfectly legal loophole, should he in this moment also be expected to think about how the world will view it? As a child playing football I was constantly told to “play to the whistle,” to not stop until I am told a rule has been broken. Is it not a double standard to say in the heat of fierce competition athletes should think about a future whistle?

Society has a constantly evolving set of morals and principles and since both athletes and governing bodies have a vested interest in any particular incident, I don’t believe they should be setting the standard. I have heard on many occasions from parents, colleagues and players that certain athletes are not  good role models and not good for sport, even Javier Tebas, the La Liga president, said he does not want Neymar to return to the league for this very reason. We, as fans of our sport, all have an idea of what we want to be able to show to younger generations so why not engage us more?

I believe the best way for acceptable standards to be set would be to hold votes in the off-season on incidents that happened during the year. The fans would get to decide what they deemed okay and if something wasn’t supported the governing bodies would have the mandate to act and create new regulation.

Should Ronda Rousey have been reprimanded when she refused to touch gloves with opponents? Should players celebrate in an opponent’s face? Do certain sports need to take more action against athletes who abuse referees and umpires? Allow the followers of the sport to decide what issues are important to them. It will allow fans to feel closer to their sport and be happier with what they are seeing from their children, nieces, nephews and friends’ role models.

More on Sports Opinion