As a season of summer sports gets underway, fans are enjoying a wealth of choice; Euros football, Wimbledon, Test cricket, the Olympic Games. Whatever your particular sporting passion, you no doubt watch these events in a spirit of nail-biting partisanship, flaunting your own allegiances and denigrating your opponents. Passionate loyalty to a team or player is the essence of being a sports fan, but when does winning at all costs become problematic?
In days gone by, generations of British schoolchildren were taught that, while they should always have a highly developed sense of competition, they should never let competitiveness debase their conduct.
It’s not all about winning the game, it’s about playing well. This means being magnanimous in victory and gracious in defeat. Sportsmanship is no more than good manners: congratulating your opponents on effective play, accepting the decisions of the referee/umpire with good grace – absolutely no whining, arguing, sulking or triumphal strutting.
Gamesmanship can be defined as the art of winning unfairly at sport without actually cheating. Profiting from an unfair advantage, covering up an unjust act, or intimidating opponents by words or body language are all prime examples of gamesmanship, which is the antithesis of good sportsmanship.
Unfortunately, histrionic questioning of line calls, hectoring and haranguing referees and umpires, and taunting and goading opponents permeate all levels of professional sport, from tennis to football. This behaviour is increasingly tolerated because it is seen as a justifiable manifestation of extreme competitiveness. It is scarcely surprising, therefore, that amateurs are aping the hyper-competitive attitudes of the professionals, and bending the rules in order to win.
Refrain from any temptation to employ these tactics. Good manners in sport are paramount, as in other aspects of life. Even if this means you lose again and again, at least you will be doing it gracefully. And if your only engagement with sport is from a position on the sidelines, remember that you are there for the love of sport. Applaud and admire skill, finesse and breathtaking talent wherever you encounter it, even if it’s from the opposition.