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Let’s promote civility in sport

By Dvir Abramovich - posted Tuesday, 3 July 2007

The debate unleashed by the Headland-Selwood affair should still reverberate like shrapnel through our consciousness. In fact, we should welcome a national conversation about civility in sports that this episode has generated.

Most of the torrential media coverage centered on whether Adam Selwood knew the tattoo on the Headland’s arm was of Headland's daughter. Yet, the sexism and tastelessness of his remarks are no less repugnant. It spotlighted a disconcerting and retrograde state-of-mind that degrades, belittles and ridicules women, and gigantically crosses the line.

Nathan Buckley has admitted to "dabbling" in sledging, adding that to penalise Selwood would unfairly single him out from all those who engage in this practice. Likewise, Ricky Ponting has revealed that he and his teammates regularly employ this psychological instrument.


The word “slut” and similar-themed slurs, compound harmful stereotypes that hold women back and marginalise them. Women should not be doormats for men to wipe their contempt on or be tools for sports players to wield as a weapon. Using such language sends a damaging message to young girls about how men perceive them.

Would we as fathers or mothers allow our sons to call their sisters or mothers “sluts”?

The persistence of “sledging” is as much a failure of our value system as it is a product of our culture. It points to the increasing dumbing down of discourse and the loosening of standards regarding how we conduct ourselves in public and on the sporting field.

Certainly, sledging as a strategy is not new. It has infiltrated all levels of our codes, from school games to the professional league. Consequently, we must all be increasingly concerned about the unsportsmanlike attitude and conduct of our sporting people.

Taunting goes against every fibre of the ideals of sports, and negates the principles of sportsmanship and ethics in competition. It tarnishes the playing field, where courage, respect and dignity should loom large.

The key point to get across is that personal insults are always contemptible and are never harmless. They are akin to slaps in the face. The effect such language has on teenagers and adults should not be underestimated.


Have we reached a point in Australian society where verbal bullying and a profound lack of civility has become commonplace?

Disrespectful language, which includes swearing and aggressive, vulgar language, should be condemned in no uncertain terms. It must never be regarded as par for the course in a competitive environment.

Studies have shown that in youth sports, verbal intimidation is often so abusive that it reaches the point where young men and women simply don't want to play anymore.

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About the Author

Dr Dvir Abramovich is the Jan Randa senior lecturer in Hebrew-Jewish studies and director of the University of Melbourne centre for Jewish history and culture.

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