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The art of losing

By Joff Lelliott - posted Thursday, 6 July 2006

If we are to become a truly great sporting nation, Australians need to get better at losing.

Much of the world would have rejoiced if the Socceroos had gone through to the quarter finals of the World Cup. The event thrives on giant killers and outsiders that go a long way. It’s happened before, and in recent tournaments the world cheered on South Korea, Croatia, Cameroon and Romania as they took on the traditional giants of football.

Winning the final is not the only measure of success. The Socceroos gave their matches all they had and Australia is rightly proud of the team.


However, there is an ugly side to the Australian love of sport that has come out once again. The knee-jerk reaction to losing a game is that the referee supports the other team or that the rules must be wrong. Australians need to learn to accept losing with much more grace.

This time around we saw Harry Kewell berating the referee after the match against Brazil and the media complaining about unfair decisions after all the matches, especially the Italy game.

Referees can get things wrong. They do not have a variety of camera angles, with replays and reverse angles. Referees make split second decisions, based purely on what they can see and under enormous pressure. On top of that, they follow the ball over the entire pitch, unlike the players who at least get to slow down when the ball is away from them.

So, mistakes are inevitable and go with the territory. Most are small, but every now and then a refereeing error influences the outcome of a game. That’s unfortunate, but it’s also unavoidable and all countries have to learn to live with it.

The Australian media, up to and including the normally more mature ABC, have had a field day picking apart the refereeing of Australian matches during the World Cup. This adds fuel to the growing trend of poor sporting behaviour from elite sportspeople to school sports clubs.

Unfortunately the World Cup is the latest in a long history that demonstrates an inability to accept refereeing decisions and accept losing sometimes.


In the 2001 US Openm Lleyton Hewitt, who was playing the African-American James Blake, insisted that a Black linesman be changed after he called two foot-faults against Hewitt.

It is now customary for crowds to boo the winning team in Rugby League’s State of Origin if the winners are playing on the opposing state’s territory.

And the intensity of the complaints rises if Australia loses to the old enemy - England. Here the second line of defence is employed - the rules are wrong. In 2003, thanks partly to the exceptional boot of Jonny Wilkinson, England won the Rugby World Cup final against Australia, in Australia. The media and public unanimously declared that a drop goal was not a real goal and the rules should be changed to prevent a repeat of this kind of win.

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About the Author

Dr Joff Lelliott is a part-time writer with a Masters degree in sociology. He is a long-time football fan.

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