Like life, like sport?
Two weeks ago, Barbados National Hero and internationally acclaimed cricketing icon Sir Garfield Sobers was moved to tears as he spoke about the present state of West Indies cricket. It was certainly an emotional interview for him as he lamented what he saw were the numerous troubles associated with West Indies cricket today.
Sir Garfield comments are worth reflecting on, as many commentators have done since he made them: “I have always played for the West Indies teams, and it was such a pleasure and joy to be able to do what I did. Records meant nothing; the team was important. I don’t think we have that kind of person today.
“We might have them in different countries; we might have them in Sri Lanka; we might have them in England; in Australia, but I don’t think we have that kind of person in West Indies any more who is quite prepared to play and to give it everything to their country . . . . And that hurts.
“And until we can get people who are willing to play for West Indies in the right way, I think that we’re going to be struggling for a long time . . . . Other countries are going to come and surpass us.”
I am not even going to attempt to enter into a discussion on the state of cricket, as I was not into cricket or any type of sport for that matter in my younger days, as my schoolmates at Foundation School would attest to. Actually, it was not until my son came along, and from the early age of five when he started to get involve in cricket, that I took a more serious interest in the sport. He certainly didn’t get his cricketing genes from me. He now proudly plays for Carlton Club.
However, I cannot help but consider the comments of Sir Garfield and wonder if what this illustrious cricketer is saying is not in some way a barometer of the state not only of West Indies cricket, but the West Indies as a whole. Does the state of our cricket, or what happens in any sport for that matter, speak to what happens in our wider society? Or even vice versa, what happens in our wider society reflects what happens in our sport? Perhaps there is a correlation.
In recent times, there have been significant incidents occurring both on the field and off the field in a wide range of sporting activities. The ongoing FIFA scandal reaching the highest echelons of that governing body is the biggest story in the world of soccer. And in so many others sports, controversy swirls.
In Barbados we have been seeing our fair share of on and off the field incidents. I watched in dismay on the television news recently an altercation between a player and a referee in a local prestigious tournament. The player, not happy with the decision of the referee, confronted him verbally and physically. The referee had to leave the field, fearing for his life, thereby causing the match to be abandoned.
Football tournaments in Barbados have come to be associated with gunplay and other serious offences. Sometime ago, a netball tournament faced the ugly side
of players fighting among themselves. This brought national disgrace to a sport that was otherwise unknown to be associated with such behaviour. And basketball in Barbados wasn’t spared similar attention when a player decided it was better to attack another player because he wasn’t happy with his move. Sport, while in some cases can be very
confrontational, has always been seen as an avenue to build discipline and respect. Respect for the authority person in the sport, whether he/she is an umpire or referee has been the trademark of the game. Disagreement with a decision is dealt with off the field in ways that are clear and dictated by the relevant sporting body.
And there was respect for one’s opponents; and one was humble in victory, gracious in defeat. The trend now to confront the person in authority or the opposing team members is a worrying one. But is this not all indicative of what we see happening in our wider society? A growing trend of disrespecting the law and becoming angry easily?
In Sir Garfield’s analysis, it appears that players are playing for themselves and not the team. This is a grave indictment. It is the collective efforts of all in the team that will bring ultimate success. If one or more in that team play for themselves or choose not to play effectively or even break the rules, then the whole team suffers.
If we don’t have players who want to give it everything, to sacrifice what is necessary to make the team successful, then we will be at the bottom of the ladder for a long time.
Our society today is witnessing the same trend –– people not wanting to work for the whole; people who are content to look after themselves and not worry if the whole society succeeds or fails; people who would break the law and see no issue with the repercussions. Our sporting teams are drawing from this mindset.
Not all, of course, are like this; and we have some very outstanding sports personalities who have done well within the boundaries set. But we must be worried even if the slightest of this kind of negative mindset should begin to take root. Arrogance and lack of care/concern must have no place in our sport.
Sport must be used to build character. It must help to build discipline, fortitude, stamina and respect. It must help to instil a sense of responsibility to self and to the team. These are characteristics we all need as human beings. If sport is seen only as means of making money, both by the administrators and players, then we will forever see these unfortunate occurrences. It will ultimately reflect what is happening our society.
Sir Garfield’s comments are timely and comes from a person who has made cricket his life. His comments reach beyond cricket and I dare say beyond sport. Our society must face head-on the challenges that confront us as a nation. Our sporting activities must never be associated with issues of lawlessness and violence; nor with arrogance and selfishness. Both the organizers of sport and the players must live by a sense of moral responsibility, always upholding what is right and lawful.
My principles are more important than the money or my title.
–– Muhammad Ali
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace, and secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association. Email firstname.lastname@example.org)