When I was young we played cricket with variations to the rules to aid participation. If you were a great batsman and you sent the ball over the fence, it was ‘six and out’. You could never be caught out on the first ball. Designated young players at the garbage bin (wickets) could not be caught out unless the catch was one-handed. At the cry of ‘car’ or ‘dinner is ready’, the game stopped to give way for other things in life.
The 2014 Australian Catholic Bishops’ Social Justice Statement, A Crown for Australia: Striving for the Best in Our Sporting Nation, calls for Australians to take a close look at our sporting culture. Sport can build-up human dignity and lead to social inclusion. Sporting activities celebrate that we are not only thinking beings, but also social and bodily beings. The sporting field, however, can too often be an arena for discrimination and exclusion. The noble idea of sportsmanship can so easily be replaced by seeking personal advantage at the expense of others – keeping to the rules of the game, but not the spirit.
The A Crown for Australia highlights that the game is too important to be left to elite players and administrators. Administrators can become fixated on ensuring a spectacle. Elite players, under pressure to perform, can be tempted to cut corners through drugs or gambling money.
A significant proportion of the population now sits on the sidelines as spectators rather than as participants. Adults and an increasing number of children are finding themselves excluded from the playing field. Costs and social barriers are placed in their way, or they have heard once too often that they are ‘not good enough’ or the ‘right person’ for the team. This comes at the expense both of sport and of society. The health benefits of involvement in the game include not only the effects of exercise, but also the psychological benefits of inclusion.
The games of life, whether played on the sporting field, in our worshipping communities, in the political arena, or in the economy, have a lot in common. There is need for increased encouragement of participation and ensuring people have a position on the field in which they can feel supported and from which they can be supportive of others. A position from which they can strive to be the best person they can be.
The statement’s accompanying action guide, Ten Steps Towards Being A Good Sport, suggests activities in which individuals or communities could participate to help pass on skills and build up the dignity of others through sport. We are social beings who seek community and belonging. Sport can help provide this. It potentially opens the door to equality in social inclusion and interaction between people from different socioeconomic backgrounds.
The media attention on elite sport and the fact that sport mirrors our society, mean that it is rightly the subject of public ethical debate on what it means to be human, how to celebrate the different gifts we have been given, and in what sort of society we wish to live.