Once upon a time, when piggy was a swine, people participated in sports for fun, recreation and exercise. Sports has now evolved into big business where the rewards for success are so enormous that the emphasis on winning is what now dominates this pastime. Sports now has morphed into a means of earning a living, and the amateur sportsman is looked upon by some as “not good enough” or an idiot. Even the Olympics, once the bastion of amateur sport has acquiesced to modern demands and (reluctantly, I think) allowed professionals to make the Olympic medal a “must have”.
This desire to win, no-matter-what-or-how, has resulted in doping, and the ability of authorities to ignore or bend rules when top athletes/players transgress. The Russian doping scandal has brought to the fore the extent to which nations will go to win! The disgrace revealed by the banning of the head of the IAAF and other top sport administrators for malfeasance cements the point. Every time a top/star athlete transgresses there is a sustained and wholehearted effort by people who you think should know better to find ways of excusing the athlete.
The case of England cricketer Ben Stokes, illustrates the point. Ben Stokes is an amazing cricket all-rounder. He has produced for England time after time and has helped that country to not only win he has helped England to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. One night last year, after defeating the West Indies in a One Day cricket match, Ben Stokes and Alex Hales turned up at a night club in Bristol, requesting entry. The pair was denied entry. A bribe of 60 pounds was allegedly offered to the gateman/bouncer. The bribe was rebuffed, and an argument developed between an angry and frustrated Ben Stokes and the nightclub employee who was simply just doing his work.
As sometimes happens, the argument escalated and “insults” were traded. The “word feud” developed when other persons became involved and eventually a fight began. Fists and kicks were thrown, all captured on CCTV cameras. Police were called and one of the combatants had to be taken to Hospital.
A review of the incident captured on film reveals BOTH cricketers throwing blows. One clip had Alex Hales kicking a victim in the head while lying on the ground! Strangely, after an investigation, Ben Stokes was charged with “affray”, not aggravated assault or grievous bodily harm, as one of the victims suffered a broken skull. Alex Hales was never charged with anything!
At the trial, where important information from witnesses were never sought, Ben Stokes was found Not Guilty, to the amazement of everyone who followed the event. What follows only concretizes the point I would like to make. Instead of allowing a cricketer time to recover mentally from an emotionally sapping event that could have ended with a verdict of the potential of ending his career, Ben Stokes’ “expertise” was needed in a Test series that England was determined to win!
In the just concluded third Test, Ben Stokes nearly assisted in a herculean effort to save England from defeat. It matters not what the previous trial revealed about the behaviour and character of Ben Stokes. What matters was the principle: “win-at-all-costs-no-matter-what”. To use a hackneyed term, “that’s not cricket”. From the country/nation that invented the game, principles were sacrificed on the altar of victory. That is what the desire to win-no-matter-what has done to the very people who you would expect to be the bastions of “principle”. Will “cricket” ever be “cricket” again?