GUEST COLUMN
Volume 2 Number 4
Strive to Win?
01 April 1989

Today, the 'professional foul' is no longer something which only the referee can spot, but a dangerous tackle that breaks all the rules. Violence on the field is reflected even more tragically by violence in the stands, and governments are forced to take action.

By H W 'BUNNY' AUSTIN
In the 1920s when I was in my early teens I went with my father every Saturday in the winter and spring holidays to watch some kind of football in London. It might have been 3rd Division Crystal Palace playing at Selhurst Park or an international rugby match at Twickenham.

In those happy far-off days sport, in Britain at least, was still sport. The crowds were orderly and in neither the amateur nor the professional game did I notice any fouls. My father explained that there were `professional fouls' which would be spotted only by the referee, not the public. Though we would cheer vociferously for our team, winning or losing did not seem to mean much to me nor to the rest of the spectators. We went to see and enjoy a well fought game, and good sportsmanship seemed to prevail at that time. It is possible that memory casts a golden glow over the past, but I think not.

Today, the 'professional foul' is no longer something which only the referee can spot, but a dangerous tackle that breaks all the rules. Violence on the field is reflected even more tragically by violence in the stands, and governments are forced to take action.

Tennis too has been bedevilled by uncouth behaviour by two of its greatest players. Sadly it tends to be copied by the rising generation.

In contrast, Rod 'Rocket' Laver, who won two tennis Grand Slams in the 1960s, was asked recently what was the worst thing he had ever said to an umpire. `It must have been, "Are you sure?"' he replied, and added, `When you shout obscenities you downgrade the game, the public - and the way you are remembered.'

Not cricket
I remember that great French champion of the 1920s, Rene Lacoste, against whom I played at Wimbledon when I was still little known. Lacoste was leading two sets to love when, with victory in sight, he eased up in the third set and I snatched it 8-6. In the fourth set I became like a man possessed. There was nothing I could not do with the ball. Drives, volleys, drop-shots, lobs flowed with equal ease from my racquet. Lacoste must have wondered if he were not in danger of defeat but as we crossed over when I was leading 41 he encouraged me by saying, `Well played, Bunny.' I won that set 6-1 but in the final set the magic departed and he won 6-2 to clinch the match.

The Australian tennis player Jack Crawford was one of the great sportsmen of the 1930s. Speaking at a dinner after England's victory over Australia in the 1936 Davis Cup, he said, `It may be sad to lose but I think of the pleasure it gives the other fellows to win.'

One of the all time greats was Donald Budge. In his 1937 Wimbledon final against Gottfried von Cramm, Budge queried a line call in his favour believing the point should have gone to von Cramm. After the match, which Budge won, von Cramm reproached him. `But it was your point,' Budge insisted. `Yes,' replied von Cramm, `but think of the embarrassment you caused the linesman.' Such was the sportsmanship of those days.

I am far from indicting the whole of today's tennis world and many of its players reflect the same sportsmanship which prevailed when I was playing in the 1930s.

One of the great sportswomen of the modern era is Chrissie Evert. During one Wimbledon championship she had been up sick all night. But the following day when she played and was beaten she gave no sign that she was not at her physical best. No one would have known she was ill had her husband not told the press. She has always been one to meet defeat and victory with the same grace and, at least outwardly, `treat those two impostors just the same'.

Perhaps the saddest of all declines has been in cricket, that great game which stood at one time for the very best in sport, and gave the Englishman that damning condemnation of anything mean or unfair, `It's simply not cricket.'

Sadly, a lot that is `not cricket' appears on the cricket field today, especially in the international arena where bad umpiring and the intimidating use of the `bouncer' by fast bowlers have caused concern. Even gamesmanship has entered in: the attempt to upset a batsman by insulting remarks from fielders standing close by. Yet there are still players who, in the best tradition of the game, will `walk' when they know they are out before the umpire has given his decision.

What has gone wrong in sport? The financial fortunes to be made today are far greater than in my day, and the influence of money has coincided with a decline in moral and spiritual values.

Many of the traditional sports, including tennis, can claim their origins in Britain. In giving them to the world, Britain did so with a concept of a sporting spirit that sprang from our Christian heritage. If sport is to fulfil its role - to feed into the nations a spirit of sportsmanship and `playing the game'- it has to be reinstilled with the moral and spiritual fibre out of which sportsmanship first sprang.

Of course a spirit of competition is at the heart of sport and is - healthy when it demands courage and discipline. To strive to win is far from evil in itself; it only becomes so when it is all important. Then winning at any price leads to cheating, violence and drug taking.

When we think of South Africa, sportsmen need to ask themselves why they want to play there. Is it to forward the chances of all races, or because the pay is good?

Powerful leaven
My old friend Grantland Rice, the American sports columnist, once wrote these :ines:

`And when the last great Scorer comes
And writes against your name,
He'll not ask if you won or lost
But how you played the game.'

In this sophisticated, `win at all costs' world, those lines may be derided. But `playing the game' - a spirit of honesty and respect for the other person - is important not only in sport. It is a key to life - in the home, in business and industry, and in international affairs.

Sportsmen armed with this spirit could be a powerful leaven in the life of nations.

HW `Bunny' Austin, tennis idol of the 1930s, was the last British player to appear in the Wimbledon men's singles finals, in 1938.


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