Athletes failing to be good sports

LOOKING back over his career, Scottish soccer player and Liverpool manager Bill Shankly only half jokingly quipped: "Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that."

Sport is taken very seriously for numerous reasons, not the least of which being, it's big business with lots of money involved.

Because of that, athletes are pushed and push themselves to the limits of endurance.

And that's not a bad thing because when we watch elite sport, we want to watch the Lionel Messis, the Cathy Freemans, the Muhammed Alis, the Roger Federers, the Usain Bolts, athletes who can all make amazing seem effortless.

Sitting back with your mouth slightly agape, thinking, "how did they do that" is part of the experience.

But sport is also about sportsmanship.

It is the only place where humanity and super human efforts combine and has the unique ability to both transcend the normal limits of human abilities and focus humanity like an atom under the microscope.

It's where John Landy stops to check on fellow runner Ron Clarke who had fallen in the 1500 metre final, helps him to his feet and then reels in the massive deficit to win in the final metres.

It's where West Ham bad boy Paulo Di Canio receives a pass in front of an open goal after his team plays on with Everton `keeper Paul Gerrard down injured but instead of tapping the ball into the empty net, he picks it up to stop the game.

It's where instead of celebrating a dramatic Ashes win, Freddy Flintoff consoles a devastated Brett Lee who was stranded at the non-striker's end.

However, this week we learnt about criminal gangs infiltrating sport, fixing the results of matches and providing illegal drugs to athletes.

For a long time Australians rejected the notion that such nefarious activities happened here - match fixing involved Pakistani cricketers bowling no balls by a clear stride. It was something that happened overseas not in our egalitarian country.

That naivety was shattered this week by the Australian Crime Commission's report, Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport, that showed drug taking was rife within our professional codes.

Perhaps this generation is gone and it's time to look at the kids kicking a ball in the park to reclaim sport as an exertion of the body and expression of the human spirit.

In a girls' softball match in the US, batter Sara Tucholsky hit her first home run but injured her knee rounding first base. She crawled back to the first but would be ruled out if her teammates tried to help her.

Without a second thought, the opposing team picked Sara up and carried her around the diamond, stopping at each base to let her touch it with her good leg, until she reached home plate. Sara's team won and the opponents were knocked out of the play-offs.

It's a story that offers a hope for the future of sport and sportsmanship.

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