‘The good, bad and ugly sides of sport’

  Sporting Compass: With Dr Pippa Grange and Paul Oliver

Dr Pippa GrangePaul Oliver

As a sports psychologist and founder of Bluestone Edge, I am fortunate to have many conversations with people about the substance and meaning of sport.
My colleague Paul Oliver also engages with people at all levels across the sporting sector to keep his finger on the pulse of the latest news, views and issues.

In this space each fortnight, we will share some of these stories, insights and possibilities in relation to people, culture, ethics and leadership in sport. I hope you enjoy the conversation and we look forward to hearing your thoughts.

All the best, Pippa and Paul


‘The good, bad and ugly sides of sport’

16 September 2013
Category:   ETHICS AND INTEGRITY – what should we do?

Well, it was another week of sport delivering the good, the bad and the downright ugly. There’s certainly too much of the negative and not enough of the positive in sport for my liking recently.

We may not have reached the dizzying heights of the 2013 NFL off-season with 37 players being arrested or charged with crimes, but there certainly has been a lot of talk in the media, in the stands and on the couches about the current state of sport in Australia. Is it in disarray? Has it lost its meaning? Does it need to be saved?

An endless stream of damaging issues and events over the past year or two is slowly taking the gloss off our once untouchable, quintessential Aussie institution, and causing some to question its purpose, value and relevance in our lives.

Last week, stories of illicit drug use and poor player behavior abounded, and just yesterday, Victorian Police announced they have smashed a multi-million dollar match-fixing ring involving the Victorian Premier League soccer competition. These incidents just add to a distressing narrative that things have reached a ‘tipping point’ and that sport has seemingly lost its way and is ‘on the nose’ for many.

Let me say from the outset that I am not one of those people – I do not think that sport is lost or in disarray. Sport has and always will be a reflection of what’s going on in broader society and its wider issues and challenges. Look at the issues and behaviours (both good and bad) that you see every weekend on our sporting fields, pools and tracks (at all levels) and think how these are also reflected in our workplaces, social settings and our homes. “Sport is interwoven into our heritage, our culture, our politics and our business” 1 – it is a mirror to our wider community and society. If it is happening in sport, the chances are that you can see it elsewhere too.

I think we need to keep perspective – our sporting institutions, organisations and athletes haven’t changed overnight. There are several reasons why sport and our sportspeople are coming under increased scrutiny at present and not coming out looking too rosy, these include:

1) An increased focus on the underbelly of Australian sport since politicians and sports officials announced “the blackest day in Australian sport” in response to the Australian Crime Commission investigation findings of increasing use of banned performance-enhancing drugs and attempted match fixing in sport. And rightly so – we must do all we can to uphold the integrity of our sport in the face of illicit drugs and corruption challenges.
2) Much is being asked of sport these days – “society expects many important and worthwhile things from sport and uses sport to support various fundamental social values and ethical principles”2 . We need to be careful not to build sport up as a ‘cure for all’ our social ills, otherwise we are setting it, and ourselves, up to fail.
3) The spotlight has also been shone brightly on many of our national sporting teams and athletes recently due to the loss of our stranglehold on the number one position in many of our traditional strengths such as cricket, swimming, tennis, rugby etc. The sports-literate public and media can find this lack of success difficult to come to terms with and interrogate deeply and critically for answers, however expectations need to be tempered with changing realities not just within our teams but in the strength of competition in many cases.

It is important throughout this seeming maelstrom of negativity that we don’t forget the true scope and capacity of sport and what sportspeople are capable of. In essence, sport moves, inspires and connects us. I just watched a video today of Melbourne Demon’s AFL club’s actions to make life a bit brighter for a seven year old fan and his father who is fighting cancer and I was reminded instantly of the abundant power of sport.

If you find yourself questioning the power, worth or meaning of sport, recall Nelson Mandela’s words: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.” He should know.

Sport is what we make it – what will that be?

Dr Pippa Grange

1 Zakus (2009)
2 Dr Doris Corbett (President of the International Council for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, Sport and Dance)



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Categorized: ETHICS AND INTEGRITY – what should we do?