The idiot in the stands is a stain on the game. A lout who thinks his idle provocation of athletes is clever. A bonehead who gathers a few buddies and mocks and abuses. A dimwit who thinks misogynistic or racist jokes are hilarious.
He’s a waste of a seat. The equivalent of a flat beer on a cold day. Just a bad taste.
The idiot – and versions of them exist in every land, in varying degrees – turned up in Sydney during the third cricket Test between Australia and India. The Indian players complained about abuse, the game was stopped, the police arrived, people were escorted out.
If the abuse is officially revealed as racist, then their names should be filled into a register, which stretches across all sports, grounds and nations.
Sorry, you can’t come in. Anywhere. Ever.
The idiotic fan, often loud on Twitter and social media, is fortunately in the minority, though he is still one too many. He confuses insults with entertainment. No one comes to his workplace to call him names but he doesn’t get it. He thinks his ticket is a licence. Well, to be an idiot.
The idiot can’t be a real fan because there’s no love of the game in what he does. The best fans are loud, devoted, sulky, zealous, tribal but know there’s a line. That, all hype aside, this isn’t real battle but a game. That winning might be the end goal but on the way you adhere to a civil code. Like Jurgen Klopp chastising some of his staff for applauding a Chelsea red card: “We don’t clap when someone from the other team gets sent off!”
The best fans bring sound to the opera that is sport and 2020 was unmusical. The empty stadium made for a hollow contest and now only a few are allowed into arenas at a time. To get in is a privilege and yet some respond by taunting athletes.
We can resist this with tough rules, use cameras to spot troublemakers, stuff a stadium with police, but we also need to educate young fans. Need to try and idiot-proof sport for the next generation.
So it’s up to parents (your children are watching you watch sport), teachers, coaches, psychologists, anyone who is associated with any kind of young person or team. Teach your kids that sport is more than a dribble.
Team sports are still restricted this year, so let’s make use of the extra free time. Let’s have lessons in tactics but also ethics. Classes in the geographies of fields and also the histories of a sport. Show them where athletes came from and the poverty they survived. These are not hero stories, just human ones which don’t deserve a heckle.
Tell them about the scarring struggles of black athletes. Tell them how Charlie Sifford, the great golfer, found faeces in the first hole of a tournament he was playing in 1952. Tell them about the dull stereotyping of Asian stars. Tell them it takes courage to stand up for these athletes, not cowardly boo them from the anonymity of a crowd.
Let’s not take any of this for granted, let’s not presume people are intrinsically fair. I’ve seen grown men refuse to clap when a player from a rival country hits a sublime cricketing shot. For some fans, ambition and sportsmanship have become virtues in conflict.
Let boys play with girls in the same team and figure out skill isn’t restricted to gender. Let’s ask Singapore women athletes to come lecture at boys’ schools. Respect is built from knowledge, awareness from experience.
Show kids footage of Real Madrid fans giving Barcelona’s Ronaldinho an unforgettable ovation in 2005. Mockery is lazy, saluting skill takes generosity. And right now, when there is no sport, is the appropriate moment to teach the best of sport. To remind us what we’re missing and why we go and watch.
Cheats, sexists, racists, the greedy, the patronising, sport is smeared by ugliness and yet elevated by the magnificent. But, we need to tell kids, the beautiful parts of sport don’t just remain, they have to be preserved. Fairness has to be fought for, equality actively supported and respect advocated.
Character cannot just be the athletes’ responsibility or courage only their role. Sometimes it’s up to us to object to the abuse of players in stadiums. Sometimes to protect our favourite place we need to help put the idiot in his.
Which is anywhere outside the ground.
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