Let's stop taking sport so seriously

The Scots College, who have come under fire for allegations of buying in student athletes.

The Scots College, who have come under fire for allegations of buying in student athletes. Photo: Scots College website

Everyone who plays or follows competitive sport, on any level, needs to take a step back. Take a deep breath. Every single one of you. Because you’ve taken things too far. In fact, you’re ruining it.

Sport has jumped the shark. And players have vaulted further over it than any human rightfully should, fuelled by peptides, human growth hormone and an approach that says that you’re a mug if you don’t do anything that’s not expressly prohibited by the rules, no matter how unethical it may be.

In an attempt to get an edge, clubs have been re-enacting the 1980s movie Weird Science, giving their players “supplements”, and if not breaking the rules, then certainly flirting with danger – much as the two geeks do in Weird Science.

Questions raised:  The Roosters were shocked by the results of blood tests.

Questions raised: The Roosters were shocked by the results of blood tests. Photo: Dallas Kilponen

In John Hughes’ movie, the nerds increase their computer-simulated lady’s boobies for the purposes of “humour” – but sports scientists are enlarging footballers’ biceps to similarly absurd proportions – for real.


And the unsavoury revelations keep coming. This week, a murky story surfaced about the Roosters, rugby league’s most consistent team this season, and human growth hormone. Essendon, my AFL team, have already been excluded from the finals and fined after various irregularities. Right now, the country’s two most popular codes seem dodgier than a late-night kebab.

Fans could be forgiven for wondering whether there’s any genuine joy to be had in winning a premiership in this year which contained the “blackest day in Australian sport”. Should it be the players who are feted with a ticker-tape parade, or the geeks in the backrooms who have devised concoctions of ever-increasing complexity? Alongside the coveted Dally M and Brownlow, should they hand out honours for the most devious sports scientists?

Essendon's James Hird who has been banned from AFL for one year.

Essendon's James Hird who has been banned from AFL for one year. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

Worse still, we’ve seen this week that this absurd competitiveness has extended well beyond professional sport. There have been reports that a schoolboy basketball competition has been manipulated in ways that contravene the spirit of friendly competition.

In response, five of the seven other Sydney GPS private schools have refused to play The Scots’ College, a remarkable situation given the GPS’ gentlemanly pretensions.

It reminded me of when I was in Year 11 back in 1993. That was Scots’ centenary year, and their rugby team improved remarkably amid similar rumours of “music scholarships” going to likely Wallabies prospects. In the end, the school won its first premiership in six years – and that was its last rugby title until this year.

I never heard any official confirmation of whether or not Scots had done anything improper back then (although Paul Sheehan referred to it back in 2002). So let’s just say that to win their one premiership in 26 years in their Centenary year was a delightful piece of serendipity.

I also remember that when that Scots team played my school, the relatively nerdy Sydney Grammar, in round 2, something like half of our First Fifteen contracted season-ending injuries.

That situation made me angry at the time, and it still does when I read about the basketball competition today. A mismatched rugby game can be genuinely dangerous, and our bookish team were never any threat to Scots’ title hopes.

Nowadays, the school has a professional sports scientist on its books. I’m not suggesting there are any peptide-style shenanigans afoot at Scots. But it seems totally absurd that a school should employ a sports scientist to get an edge in something as trivial as high school sport – especially one who previously worked at a first-grade NRL club!

As you can see here, Scots even has an indoor altitude chamber. At a high school. An artificially high school, evidently.

How ridiculous. For one thing, Scots is already located high on a hill so the boys can enjoy water views.

(The school is evidently not enjoying the media attention – the webpages for its “high performance centre” have disappeared. Fortunately, Google’s cached versionsurvives, and makes for an interesting read.)

I know that Scots is not the only offender, and the other schools’ objections a reminiscent of rich, spoiled kids squabbling.

But here’s the thing – when you take sport too seriously, you ruin it. Victory seems ugly, and losing becomes bitter. It rankles to lose to someone when it doesn’t feel fair and square.

Anyone who played sport at school will remember those terrible parents on the sideline, shouting at the referee and getting far too emotionally involved as they urged their offspring to triumph where they themselves had once failed. Those petulant parents should have been made to go and sit in their Lexuses. Instead it seems that their mentality is running the show.

Winning a premiership is nice. It’s a cause for celebration, sure. But it doesn’t actually mean anything. Even the NRL trophy is not that big a deal in the scheme of things. Scale the importance of that down by several hundredfold and you’ll get a sense of how much these schoolboy plaudits should matter.

It’s a quest for bragging rights, I suppose – but as Scots may well be finding, bragging is hollow if the people you beat think you flouted the rules.

I’m not saying they’re cheating, but I am saying they’ve lost proportion – just as professional sporting teams have.

I used to think the professionalisation of sport was a sign of progress – that players could earn a decent wage nowadays. Now I fear that too much money sloshing around ruins sport. Perhaps we should turn our attention to amateur competitions where fun and friendliness is a higher priority than victory.

And as for Scots, perhaps they should get rid of their sports scientist and instead employ someone whose only job is to remind everybody involved in the school’s sports programme that it’s only a game.

A rugby or basketball premiership ultimately doesn’t mean all that much in the scheme of things. And if it does, the person you should be adding to your staff is a counsellor. 



  • Dom, if we want to level the playing field, then maybe Selective schools should not be included in the general HSC results, as these schools have exams for entrance and only take the brightest ( and sometimes offered scholarships for this!!) , so results are skewed to them performing the best. But it's ok as long as it's not sports. Schools have been bringing in imports for years, Riverview will favour enrolments to excellent sport players, Joeys holding back players, Grammar can't even play so i don't even know why they bother. As for the Scots 1993 team, majority of the players were at Scots since Kindy, and some of those boys like Tom Bowman played for the Wallabies. Sometimes such as Cathy Freeman winning Gold in Sydney, a sense of pride and occasion and pride can muster a bit more to achieve something.

    Date and time
    September 27, 2013, 7:09AM
    • There's too much money in sport to back away from the edge now. Until testing catches up to everything that is possible (and I think the chances of this happening are slim to none) then outright cheating and other questionable behaviour will continue.

      And of course the fans are complicit as we all want bigger, faster, more exciting events. No idea what the answer is...perhaps when the damage to athletes' bodies is so bad, so consistent that it makes it not worth the cash to continue to dope and battle the way they do now, things will finally change. But I doubt it.

      Date and time
      September 27, 2013, 7:14AM
      • Watch them run when the law suits from damaged ex-players start. Can't be far away

        Date and time
        September 27, 2013, 9:20AM
      • I don't know if lawsuits will do much to stem the tide. The NFL recently settled with their players in a lawsuit over concussions. Didn't miss a beat and nothing has changed at all.

        Date and time
        September 27, 2013, 10:37AM
    • I often wonder where this country would be without sport to sustain it's fragile ego. How would we 'punch above our weight' otherwise?

      Date and time
      September 27, 2013, 8:15AM
      • @Marloo...perhaps those Grammar boys continue to play sport for the same reason Joeys, Kings and Scots boys continue to sit for the HSC; because they dream of an upset some day...

        Date and time
        September 27, 2013, 9:14AM
        • I believe that this man doesn't have any real idea of the joy or that comes with winning a final. Yes I know it isn't a big deal on the grand scheme of things but anyone with a true passion for a sport will tell you the euphoria that comes with a grand final win. It is an amazing feeling and if winning brings happiness to so many people, why should we stop being as competitive as we are

          Date and time
          September 27, 2013, 9:33AM
          • Men's sports will always be huge in Australia and I support this. I love September. Bring it on.

            Date and time
            September 27, 2013, 10:25AM
            • People stopped taking sport seriously decades ago,when they turned it into a business and added gambling to its menu.And then realised competition between teams under different leaders facilitates war.,as well as sold beer and other recreational drugs.

              Date and time
              September 27, 2013, 1:16PM
              • This really bothers me that a person would say sport is not a big deal. School sport, like the HSC, offers students opportunities in their future. Sport, like journalism or law, is a career and a very lucrative one at that. If a student has the opportunity to foster their sporting ability at school this can lead to university scholarships, overseas education and sporting opportunities and future opportunities to represent their area, state and even country professionally. Sport is one of the highest grossing industries in the world and the reason is - people love it, people are passionate about it. We celebrate intelligence, creativity, ingenuity - why can't we celebrate physical strength and athletic greatness. Why should this competition be simply "friendly"?

                Date and time
                September 27, 2013, 2:02PM
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