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Have we lost our way when it comes to sport?

By Glen Anderson - posted Wednesday, 4 April 2018


The recent allegations of ball tampering levelled at Cameron Bancroft, David Warner and Steve Smith in the Third Test against South Africa in Cape Town have left many Australians embarrassed. This sort of cheating is not only frowned upon – it is regarded as un-Australian.

As disappointing as the incident is, and as much as it is restricted to a few individuals who are not necessarily representative of the whole, it may speak to a deeper sporting malaise in Australian culture.

Put simply, have we lost our way when it comes to sport?

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It could be that commercial imperatives have begun to supersede the spirit of sport itself, namely, a fair contest between opposing and honourable parties.

In an era governed by money and contracts, a win at all costs mentality may be infiltrating the Australian sporting landscape. In such a culture, ball tampering and the like is just another mechanism to achieve success.

The irony, of course, is that this very mentality undermines the endorsement-driven commercial opportunities of elite sports men and women. It now seems likely, for instance, that Cameron Bancroft, David Warner and Steve Smith will lose almost all commercial sponsorships that they currently enjoy.

Australian sport is also suffering from decreasing participation rates. Roy Morgan Research has revealed that in 2001, 34 percent of men aged 14 and over played one or more competitive sports. By 2016, this figure had fallen to just 26 percent. A similar fall-off can be discerned with women: in 2001 the participation rate for women aged 14 and over was 20 percent, but by 2016 it had fallen to 14 percent.

Sports with particularly negative participation rates include tennis (-35 percent), squash (-67 percent), cricket (-10 percent), netball (-24 percent), softball (-24 percent), field hockey (-17 percent), volleyball (-10 percent), rugby league (-27 percent), and rugby union (-63 percent).

The exact reasons for these statistics are unknown. More than likely, however, the rising cost of living – and the corresponding need to work more hours than ever before to make ends meet – has forced Australians to curtail their traditionally high participation rates.

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Among the young, there has probably been a renewed emphasis on school and tertiary study, as Australia transitions to a service, knowledge-based economy.

Participation rates have also likely dropped due to the well-known childhood obesity epidemic: once physical conditioning gives way to obesity, sport ceases to be pleasurable, and instead becomes an ordeal.

In light of these problems, it is perhaps unsurprising that Australia's sporting performance has taken a tumble in the rankings.

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About the Author

Glen Anderson is a lecturer in law at the University of Newcastle. Dr Anderson researches and teaches in the areas of international law, equity, company and property law. He has formerly taught Australian and international politics.

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