Geoffrey Fouracre Too Much Sport

10 Nov Too Much Sport Is Never Enough… Or Is It???

Each July the world’s greatest annual sporting event is completed. After three gruelling weeks, a star-studded field of the world’s elite in the sport of cycling cross the line at the Champs – Elysees in France. The winner in 2015, Christopher Froome, became one of a handful of riders to win the prestigious event more than once. I speak of course of the Tour De France, an annual event which sees more than one million spectators line the roadside on each of the 21 days to cheer on their favourite cyclist and team.

Four years ago, Australia had high hopes for Cadel Evans, who the previous year, became the first (and only) Australian to win the iconic event. Things didn’t go so well for Cadel in 2012. In spite of this, every day Cadel Evans gave it his all, overcoming illness and mechanical troubles to finish 7th in a field of 198 of the world’s best riders.

This result was, by any measure, an outstanding result! Yet, I was incredulous when I heard the Nine news reporter describe it as Cadel’s “Tour de Failure”. Newspaper reports followed suit, expressing disappointment that Cadel had failed to win. When we should have been celebrating Cadel Evans’ outstanding results and admiring his feat of endurance in surviving (and excelling) in what is arguably the most demanding sporting event on the planet, all the media could talk about was the fact that Cadel hadn’t come first.

Something rarely seen in professional sport happened in the 2012 Tour de France. As Cadel battled over one of the steep mountain stages, a spectator threw thumb tacks over the road. This caused him to have no less than three punctures in the space of a kilometre and his chances of winning the tour slipped cruelly out of reach. Hearing on the race radio of Cadel’s misfortune, Bradley Wiggins, the then leader, got the consensus of the rest of the riders and slowed the race down so that Cadel could rejoin the pack.

It was a wonderful sporting gesture and Wiggins was congratulated for recognising that there are some things bigger than sport; some principles that are far more important than winning. I hope that in years to come, Wiggin’s gesture will be remembered to be as important as his ultimate victory that year.

Unfortunately, Wiggin’s gesture is rare these days, and nowhere is our national obsession with winning (just ask Michael Clarke and Ricky Ponting what happens when you lose an Ashes series!) more evident than at the Olympic Games, which are now only several months away. This obsession spoils the Games for me, and the Olympic ideal of competing to do your best goes out the window.

I believe this has a profound influence on our young people. At the London Olympic Games in 2012 it seemed to me that if you won a gold medal you were “worthy”; you had done your country proud. However, if you achieved anything less, you didn’t count. No interview, no  sponsorship, no magazine deals – nothing. Sadly, several of our athletes achieved personal bests and this didn’t even rate a mention.

The message was clear; winning is everything, and if you don’t win, you don’t rate. As the 2008 Olympic advertisement said “no-one remembers who came second”. Sadly, our children learn the not so subtle message that not winning is failing. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that any athlete who is able to make the Olympic team is anything but a failure!

As parents, we need to keep things in perspective as we watch our children participate in weekend sport. Winning should never be the most important outcome. We must make sure that our pre-game talk, our sideline comments and our post-match commentary all reinforce positive attitudes about team-work, participation, fitness, fun and developing a healthy lifestyle.

Winning is never as important as the many valuable life lessons our children learn from participating in sport.

Geoff Fouracre