​In the final of the Asian Champions Trophy (Hockey), played between Pakistan and India, when the ball touched the foot of an Indian player unnoticed by the referee (a penalty offence) the Pakistani team appealed. When the referee referred it to the review umpire, the Indian player immediately went to the referee, explained that the ball had indeed touched his foot and requested that Pakistan not have to use up their last referral.

Grant Elliott offered a hand to Dale Steyn at the end of the Cricket World Cup semi-final.

Nikki Hamblin, help her competitor, Abbey D’Agostino in the Olympics 5,000 meter semi-final after they both tripped, but Nikki refused to continue alone and helped Abbey through the rest of the race.

We love these stories, the press love these stories, we applaud such “sportsmanship”.

So why, if we  praise such things do we conversely support outright cheating and clearly unsportsmanlike behaviours?

The NRL and UK Super League have an instant yellow card for punching, but international Rugby League does not (although it still illegal). In a recent game between England and France there was a big brawl. The English coach explains… “There was just a bit of emotion early in the game. They play the national anthems, they’re in front of their own crowd…a little incident happened. It just happens sometimes. It’s body contact.” Is there not a world of difference between a hard, but legal tackle and punching a player? Both can be used by players to express their ‘emotions’ and both are ‘body contact’. Why is it reasonable to ‘bring back the biff’?

How often do we see a rugby player coming out of ruck or tackle push the tackled player back into the ground. Dan Coles has a habit of this and the commentators pass it off as a joke, rather than condemn it not only as illegal, but for being clearly unsportsmanlike. The same commentators who praise the likes of Grant Elliott.

Is the skill in cricket to be able to bowl, bat and field with better technical and strategic skill than the opposition, while understanding and exploiting the strengths and weaknesses of opposition players? Then why is sledging, an attempt to bully and emotionally overpower the opposition not using the skills or tactics of cricket, tolerated and often praised?

Ben Stokes from England was found guilty in a recent test with Bangladesh of breaching Article 2.1.1 of the ICC Code of Conduct for Players and Player Support Personnel. This breach related to “conduct that is contrary to the spirit of the game”. This after he was repeatedly warned to stop “verbal engagements” with the batsman. What is the “spirit of the game” if you are allowed to verbally intimidate the opposition, but only to a point – at what point is that bullying behaviour no longer in the spirit of the game? And the English captains response – “I do find it a little bit frustrating… both Sabbir and Stokesy are very competitive cricketers. To me, people love it. That’s what people watch.” Is that right or do we watch a contest between the skills and tactics of ball against bat?

The rules of football state that a “A player is cautioned and shown the yellow card if he commits any of the following… unsporting behaviour… dissent by word or action.” So how is it that footballers can harass and intimidate referees as they do and not be yellow carded? 

Is it that I have just missed the point? 

So when the rules of football and cricket talk about “unsporting behaviour” and “the spirit of the game”, the boundaries of such include bullying and verbal abuse?

There are big differences between playing well, playing hard, playing to the edge of the rules, playing to win, and using bullying, intimidation and aggression, skills that are not defined as part of the skills of the game, to beat the opposition. 

Are they rules or are they just guidelines? What have I missunderstood?


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