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Bowls In Focus : October 2009
12 Bowls In Focus Lawn Order Lawn Order Peter Hanlon RVBA News Around the Greens RVBA News Around the Greens RVBA News Around the Greens The Spirit Of The Game It is difficult to write about this topic without seeming to sermonise, but my intent is to address something for which I believe we need to take responsibility as individual participants and as club officials as we commence another season. It relates to the ‘spirit of the game’ and our responsibilities under it. The spirit of game in any sport relates to an intangible code that defines the ‘game’ beyond the technicalities of the Laws and Rules. It relates to shared values such as integrity, honesty, respect and trust, and to the culture of the sport as passed down from generation to generation. Some things change, but cer tain qualities are essential to the fibre of the sport. How many people accept that not only are we participants in the sport of (lawn) bowls, but that we are also the guardians of the sport with a responsibility to maintain its integrity for generations to come? I do, not just because of the role I play as executive officer, but perhaps even more so as a member of my club. There are certain expectations about having respect for the game, for one’s opponents and officials, that need to be fulfilled, and that expectation is evident throughout my club. I’m as competitive as the next bloke (my wife would say even more competitive than most), but bowls actually enables fierce competition on the mat, and a mixture of fun and gamesmanship off it - which actually occupies most of the day. Last season I played in a Division 1 match against Berwick at Montmorency. Not only was it one of the highest standard matches I’ve played in, but it was also played in a wonderful spirit. My immediate opponent apologised before we even started saying that he was going to be ‘loud’ because that’s how he plays. Sure he was loud - but he was also good fun. That game against Berwick was very satisfying because of the standard of the bowls played and the spirit in which it was played - fiercely competitive by both sides, but fair and fun. I reckon John Dobbie would have been delighted. I have seen interstate bowls where the game is played at a higher intensity than most will ever experience. And even there, the respect for good shots, the good-natured gamesmanship, the courtesies expected when not in charge of the mat, and the banter attached to the inevitable conversations between opponents is evident. Poor sportsmanship sticks out like a sore thumb. It would be so easy to damage our sport through being overly competitive or through plain stupidity. Any one of us could place that heritage of sportsmanship in jeopardy by one careless, thoughtless or perhaps deliberate act. For that reason, I guess, we have the Laws of the Sport of Bowls and the RVBA Rules for Competition and the various sanctions that accompany them. But, you can’t legislate for everything - nor would you want to. There was a move recently to have swearing covered as a responsibility of umpires and penalties to be attached to those who used foul language. But, then what do you do with racist comments? What about religious taunts? Or other forms of abuse? Without introducing a complete system to deal with racial and religious vilification and other for ms of abuse, the notion of penalising swearing seems inadequate. But is it required at all? If people can respect the integrity of the sport, and behave in that way, there is no need for such rules and sanctions. Most smokers (99.9% I reckon) didn’t need a sanction to be imposed to have them not smoke on the green - to do as requested was as much a mark of respect to non- smokers as anything. And most people readily showed that respect. If we look at the incidents involving Serena Williams and Chris Judd over recent weeks, it is not difficult to see how individuals can have a ‘brain explosion’ and do things, which they would dearly love to be able to travel back in time and erase completely. That five seconds of manhandling an opponent’s face could have a greater impact on how Chris Judd is viewed than perhaps his Brownlow Medal. And Serena has lost all credibility, firstly because of her outburst at the lines person, but more especially her arrogance in not seeing that she was wrong and apologising straight away. But, their behaviour is clearly not in the spirit of the game and is largely inconsistent with how they normally behave. Anyone knows that - so that when John Alexander started justifying Serena’s actions because of fierce competitiveness, it just rang hollow. And their behaviour was inconsistent with society’s expectations of sportspeople. And society’s change. In the late 1920s, a young Aussie Rules Indigenous player by the name of Douglas Nicholls attended Carlton Football Club to try out for the big time. The Carlton players were overheard by the young Doug refusing to play with him because in their words ‘he smelled’; and it is reported that the trainers refused to give him a rub-down because he was black. He left and played very successfully at Northcote in the VFA. No rules or standards in VFL at the time would have changed Carlton’s actions, nor was it against the ‘spirit’ of the game or society at that time. The same man became the great Pastor Sir Douglas Nicholls, the first Aboriginal to be knighted and the 28th Governor of South Australia. A great sportsman (boxer, sprinter, footballer), he was Victoria’s Father of the Year in 1962 and received numerous other honours. In hindsight, his treatment at Carlton was abominable - but accepted at the time. Then along came Nicky Winmar and Michael Long, and the whole attitude to indigenous players (as people) had to change. The AFL as an organisation embraced this change and we all see the benefits to both the game and to the indigenous players and their communities as a result. The AFL responded positively to a change. Society would no longer accept what was inflicted on Sir Doug Nicholls, Nicky Winmar and Michael Long (and many others), and it was the AFL that led the implementation of change. So, if change occurs in response to societal change, when we see that standards in society ‘fall”’ - as with the foul language now acceptable in songs, on radio, and in film, or a prevalence of increased violence in our streets - do we accept that society has changed, and so our sport needs to be more accepting of such changes? If we think about the spirit of the game, it all comes down to making judgements based upon the principles of integrity, honesty, respect, trust and the culture of the sport. Embracing the ethnic background of indigenous players was a mark of respect and had to happen in a society that no longer was tied to a ‘White Australia Policy’. But any act of tolerating or embracing standards which demean our sport, is not in the best interests of the game. Without preaching about it, clubs have a clear responsibility to educate members about behavioural expectations and for enforcing standards. That applies most obviously on match day in relation to visible behaviour - abuse, swearing and in an extreme minority of cases, drunkenness. These things are inconsistent with what we understand as the spirit of the game. And in relation to the spirit of the game, there is a new challenge for all clubs being posed by the new pre- pennant practice rule. I find it inconceivable that a club would even consider allowing its own players to practice prior to 12 noon on match day on the rinks allocated for play, but deny the visiting side the same opportunity. The rule is there to create even better contests. Perhaps some sides aren’t ready for that. To take such an action would not be in the spirit of the new Rule for Competition, and certainly not in the spirit of the game. The green needs to be judged as either suitable or unsuitable for practice. Not simply practice for one side. We are custodians of our game, our sport. It is incumbent upon all club officials to be remind members of their role in not damaging it, and that behaviour reflects either poorly or well upon the individual him/herself - just ask Chris Judd how he feels about the damage he has done to both the game and to his own image. Then ask Michael Long how he feels about taking the stand he took. We all know what is right. To tolerate anything less is to be slack as a custodian of our sport. And for a club to ignore the inappropriate behaviour of members is in fact to accept that such behaviour is now part of the game, and to actively undermine the integrity of the sport - and as such to actively shy away from protecting the game. In my experience, the spirit of our sport is alive and well throughout the RVBA, because the vast majority of those involved accept their role in protecting that almost indefinable, essential spirit of the game and all that it stands for. Good luck for a very successful season on the greens. • I’m sure champion Carlton footballer Chris Judd would dearly love to travel back in time.
August September 2009