I realised that I never did the second part of the “Ethics and Sportsmanship” essay.
Truth be told – I have enjoyed a bit of time away from the frenzy of competitive football, especially now that I am no longer able to follow the random bits and pieces that is the SKY TV coverage of the NZ Premiership, anyway.
On the other hand I usually like to follow through with my public announcements and promises.
So, here is the second part:
Spectators’ and officials’ roles
In most ways it is really simple.
Spectators cannot abuse players, other spectators and officials verbally, let alone physically.
Physically attacking officials, players or other spectators (key word here is “attacking” – not defending oneself when BEING attacked, as self-defence is anyone’s right- at least OFF the field) is just as disgusting and unlawful as it is in any other location or context. There is no place for hooliganism.
Protecting officials, in particular, by interpreting any physical contact – even as minor as holding someone’s sleeve etc. – as out of bounds is the right thing to do and everyone simply needs to understand that one CANNOT touch an official – ever.
End of story.
What constitutes verbal abuse, of course, can be debated and I am sure different people will come up with different definitions.
Insults (typically of homophobic and racist nature) and name calling and/or making threatening gestures towards players or officials (or other spectators) is abuse in my book.
Having been personally subjected to all of the above over the last 10 years – in person or virtually in a local anonymous internet forum – I have a fairly good understanding of how disgusting and upsetting (as well as pathetic) this can be.
All of the above is nothing less than verbal violence and simply intolerable.
End of story.
Some people will interpret any disapproving noise or comment coming from the side lines or grand stands as abuse, though.
I disagree with such an extreme interpretation. Making some noise and cheering and – yes – even “booing” and whistling (NOT insulting – two different things!) when being unhappy with players’ or officials’ performances is something that should be tolerated and even expected at a spectator sport such as football. If we disallowed that then the whole thing would turn into an utmost sterile event. I have “experienced” such football matches with a completely lethargic crowd and with less of an “atmosphere” than a visit to any average cemetery at midnight in the middle of Winter would provide.
Is there any point to “booing” and yelling (no insults !) and does it benefit one’s supported team, though?
If anything, I often have the impression that officials being “pressured” like that will “dig in” rather than reflecting on their decisions and correcting their approach.
And that is the exact opposite of what the “effort” of an upset spectator aims at: pointing out that one’s supported team appears to be disadvantaged by decisions and reminding the official that “consistency” is the key to good and fair officiating.
Have I been “sucked into this” – objectively unbecoming – behaviour at times?
Am I proud of it?
How come, then, that someone of reasonable intelligence and self-control in everyday life would get “sucked into” expressing themselves by making loud and weird disapproving noises or remarks (not insults!)?
Here we come to the role of the officials.
While it has been said elsewhere that it is not the officials’ job and responsibility to control others’ emotions I’d like to point out that is IS an official’s responsibility to make sure – as best as humanely possible – that the official rules of the game apply to BOTH teams and ALL players equally.
It IS – by definition – the official’s responsibility to control the match and involved parties’ behaviour (players and team officials) by applying sanctions such as warnings and yellow/red cards. That’s the point of these sanctions – reinforcing acceptable (i.e. sportsmanship-like) behaviour and to discourage unacceptable (i.e. gamesmanship-like) behaviour.
Equally lenient or equally strict – that does not matter as long as the decisions are CONSISTENT.
What I have observed over the years is a very strong unwillingness to even entertain the notion that officials could be sometimes wrong or – much worse – could be repeatedly wrong in an inconsistent way that does eventually disadvantage one team or particular players.
It is not useful to pretend that officials are infallible super heroes that will not fall prey to common cognitive human biases (see the permanent page for more details on those) and therefore make mistakes and get decisions wrong.
What is not useful is for available video evidence not even to be looked at.
Severe decisions, such as suspending a player for several matches because of “violent conduct” against an official, for example, when a video clearly shows that no such behaviour had actually occurred, would reflect unfavourably on the game and the decisions made because disregarding available evidence in a judiciary process of any kind is wrong.
In my opinion, there is no getting away from the fact that officials do carry an enormous responsibility for upholding the ideal of sportsmanship through ensuring a “level playing field” for both teams.
If – for whatever reasons – they do not meet this responsibility, then it must be allowed to comment – without resorting to insults or threats or violence, of course.
Rugby, for once, may have the better system. I have been told that it is customary to have PUBLIC hearings on important match decisions and officials explaining themselves to anyone who cares. This instills a sense of accountability and transparency to all stakeholders instead of decisions made behind closed doors as it is customary in football.
Back to the immediate game situation – despite promising myself in early March that my booing and hissing days would be over – because I can rationally see that it is no use anyway – I still found myself getting hot under the collar occasionally but never more so than on one particular occasion.
Reflecting on this particular match – and my unbecoming behaviour (no insults, though!) – it really struck me how the seemingly extreme lack of consistency created a strong sense of this match being very unfair to my supported team and how this triggered my own – unbecoming – behaviour.
As I have done in previous years, post-match – I went over long lists of results and tried to see if a match that felt particularly “wrong” to me – such as this one – still fits with overall patterns for the teams involved – or not.
In other words I did look for evidence that it was ME who was wrong and that I was just allowing my disappointment on the day to cloud my judgment about the officiating.
Here is what I found:
What you clearly see is that this match was a complete “outlier” for BOTH teams in relation to their respective championship campaigns.
ECB’s winning margin was twice as good as any other of their few wins and they scored 50% more goals than in any other match.
MU loosing margin was twice as big as any other of their few losses and they conceded 100% MORE goals than in any other match.
The outcome of this match simply does NOT make any sense at all when seen in the context of EITHER team’s performances through the entire season.
This is no more than “circumstantial” evidence at best, of course, and it could have coincidentally been ECB’s best performance of the season, by far, meeting with MU’s worst performance of the season, by far.
And yet, the original blog (see HERE) explains how this “wrong” outcome really came about (in my humble opinion) and it explains why I – and many others around me – got very distressed about what we saw unfolding in front of our eyes and why I/we expressed disagreement very vocally (no insults, though!) although it clearly did not make any positive difference to the level of consistency in decision making on the day.
And that concludes my musings on sportsmanship in amateur sports/ football.
I may or may not catch one or two NZ Premiership matches live until the end of the season and will then report on what I observed.
Until then –
Happy Holidays and a peaceful 2019 to EVERYONE