It’s official: bad sportsmanship is OK

Anecdotally, it seems that old world values no longer exist. I’m sure you’ve been told, or have overheard the stories.

“The kids of today have no respect, no work ethic, short attention spans, are so inconsiderate and self-centred.”

“Parent’s just don’t discipline kids anymore. I got the odd strap and it didn’t do me any harm.”

“There’s no sense of community anymore. People are so focused on money.”

I know a number of long-time primary school teachers. They say the teacher-parent-child trichotomy has changed significantly.

In their view, an ever-growing number of parents now expect these teachers to develop their children not just academically but in all areas of life.

Worse still, these teachers are abused from time to time by some parents whose child has performed poorly or behaved improperly.


It does appear to the naked eye that there is greater intolerance, less consideration, a diminishing sense of community, and a growing number of people who refuse to take personal responsibility for their actions or for the outcomes in their lives.

Are these valid observations? Or is it just that there is media saturation now, coupled with the modern world tendency to dramatize everything? Maybe it’s just my generation’s version of, “back in the good old days…”

The irony is that the society of today is a creation of generations prior. My generation and the generations preceding are the architects. It’s the old “nature versus nurture” thing. Our kids have our genes and therefore should primarily have our natures; what is different, and significantly so, is how they have been nurtured.

One old world value which was always drummed in to me as a sportsman was to be humble in victory and gracious in defeat. It’s just good manners.

There are many examples of this type of sports person. Pat Rafter springs to mind.

Sports people who subscribe to this value and display the associated behaviors are widely respected, appreciated, even loved.

Those who do not are often held in contempt. Whilst superior achievement – being world champion for example – can lead to bad behavior being tolerated if not overlooked, public opinion on such people is often polarized.

At the risk of flogging a dead horse, the recent inquiry into the “failure” of the Australian swimming “team” at the London Olympics was bad sportsmanship on the greatest scale I have ever seen. In my opinion at least.

What’s worse, the inquiry endorsed bad sportsmanship. It was conducted with such formality and authority that it legitimized the act of looking for reasons, if not excuses, for not being good enough “on the day”.

I understand if Swimming Australia felt it needed to clear the air with financial stakeholders. But why so public? Most people are aware that the Olympics bring together the best of the best from many countries, and that winning gold medals is extremely difficult. Whilst a gold medal won delivers joy and pride to a nation, not winning is soon forgotten.

It would appear that Swimming Australia thought the whole of Australia was so devastated by the swimming team’s failure to meet expectations that they owed the entire nation an explanation.

But did they really? I don’t recall losing much sleep over the swimmers’ lack of success. I’m sure those that did were a very small minority.

Mind you, these expectations were created by the swimmers themselves, or at least by some of them, and by Swimming Australia to a degree. They went into the games without much humility, got bitten on the backside, and then reacted without much grace.

Which brings me back to that old-world value.

Either win with humility or accept defeat graciously. And this is a must if you are a bit up yourself.

To aggravate me more, the results of the inquiry were laughable. An example:

• There was more emphasis on individual preparation schedules in the lead-up to the Games, rather than a team approach. This lead to a decreased sense of responsibility and connectedness to the team.

• The lack of a unified team and team management made It difficult to manage the behaviour of team members.

• The juvenile shenanigans of some male swimmers cost other swimmers a good night’s sleep at a training camp a couple of weeks or so before the Olympics started.

• At the village itself, there was apparently very little friendship in the team and cliques developed resulting in acts of unkindness and poor behaviour.

• There was a lot of competition for attention and influence.

• Media interest focused on a few individuals which, apparently, fuelled discontent within the team and led to irritation and a feeling among some swimmers that they weren’t really valued.

Are they serious?! These are “first world problems” of the highest order.

Remember poor Emily Seebohm? She was in tears over her results, admitting that she probably spent too much time on Facebook and Twitter into the early hours of the morning. End of inquiry.

To me, this was nothing more than a public display of poor sportmanship.

Maybe I’m now my dad, reminiscing about the good old days, but it seems to me that values just aren’t what they used to be.


  1. nice one Pete – nail, head, bang.

  2. I think swimming has more issues because it has a very limited time in the sun and is fighting to be seen as a part of the Australian sporting landscape. The fact that we only become aware of it once every four years exacerbates the pressure to perform in order to grab the brass ring of sponsorship dollars. Added to the fact that milliseconds matter more than most sports where the difference between winning and losing is more clear cut and it is no surprise there are some issues. I would argue that the acceptance mod Nick Darcy on the team and the lack of censure over time has shown that poor behaviour is tolerated.

    On a side note, I play touch footy in a team with Pat Rafter up here on the Sunshine Coast. Make no mistake, good sportsmanship not withstanding there is a definite will to win deep inside him.

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