When I made the big move to the big smoke, trading country life for city lights (well, the suburban ones, anyway), it seemed like a good time to try some new things with the new life.
One of them saw me make a resolution to get involved in one of the team sports everyone in the country grew up playing, but had passed me by. Aside from two games of junior football (and two goals!) and schoolyard games of cricket, I’d never been part of that crowd.
Accepting our Limitations
When weighing up which one it would be, I can remember someone taking me aside and pointing out that, whatever the sport, starting out for the first time at almost 30 meant I would’t be playing at the higher levels. Their concern was that at the lower levels of suburban footy there were players who made up for a lack of speed or skill by playing the man, not the ball.
When they suggested that a weekend hobby might not be worth losing teeth or breaking bones I could see their point. Cricket seemed the safer option, which is slightly ironic considering how many Saturdays I have come home covered in bruises, or the stitches on my chin that convinced me the helmets might be worthwhile.
The Aussie Way
Whether the picture that was painted of suburban footy was fair or not, there is no doubt that Aussies play their sport hard. Our footy codes that leave American friends wondering how crazy must we be to play without padding, we cheer bouncers hurtling at helmets, and even our soccer is far more physical than the European style.
Behaviour that wouldn’t be acceptable on the street is applauded on the field. If I went up to a passerby and told them I was going to knock their head off I’d be locked up, butI’ve never begrudged a bowler’s right to try and bounce me out and narrate the experience for me.
A Fair Go on the Field, Too
And, to be honest, I’d hate to see that disappear, and I have no doubt a majority of fans feel the same. But, the public response to the sight of AFL player Andrew Gaff putting Andrew Bradshaw in hospital reminds us that we won’t accept the idea that once you cross the white line that normal standards don’t apply and anything goes.
We want to see sport played hard, but within the rules. We can accept someone getting hurt if it happens within the rules everyone is aware of and has agreed to, but quite rightly condemn actions that cross that line.
It’s Not Rocket Science
To me, if punching someone behind play is not part of the game so it should be treated the same as if you did it on the street—as opposed to a clean tackle which might not be okay at the shopping centre, but everyone on the field knows is a risk you run when you run out on the oval.
It’s not a hard distinction to make. We all know the difference between hurting someone in course of playing the game, and deliberately setting out to inflict harm. One I splaying hard but fair, the other is no different than being a thug on the streets. And, even when the cameras can’t spot the difference, we know it in our heart.
David Goodwin is the former Editor of The Salvation Army’s magazine, War Cry. He is also a cricket tragic, and an unapologetic geek.
David Goodwin archive of articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/david-goodwin.html