Comment: Let kids learn summer sledging and they risk becoming a bully

With cricket on and kids back in school, will sledging they learn from their sporting heroes spill into the playground?

Sledging is specific to sport, rife in cricket and is an adult form of public bullying with paltry reprimands that don’t discourage it.

Ross Bark of Best Enemies takes anti-intimidation campaigns into schools and sees the direct correlation between sledging and bullying.

"It’s tough for an anti-bullying message to get through to kids when the people they admire are behaving badly.  You couldn’t get away with it in the workplace now so why is it still acceptable on the sports field?" he says.

Pro-sledgers talk about it being a fair tactic to 'psych out' players.  The aim is to put an opponent off his or her game or destabilise an opposing team.

In other words, it’s a form of mental or emotional abuse so the other player can’t perform at his or her best.  It’s a deliberate attempt to gain an unfair advantage - like cheating. 

Sledging is defined as: 'the tactic of talking to players … with the objective of destroying either their concentration, confidence or self esteem.'

Bullying is also about destroying self-esteem.

There is a difference between abusing a person and challenging them in the spirit of the sport like this classic on-field banter between English fast bowler Greg Thomas to West Indies’ Viv Richards: 

GT:  ‘It’s red, round, weighs about 5 ounces.’

Then Thomas bowled and Richards hit it out of the ballpark.

VR:  ‘You know what it looks like; you go fetch it.’

That exchange is about the game, not a personal attack.  Other examples of sledging can be found in The Art Of Sledging . Take, for example, Glenn McGrath to Eddie Brandes:

GM: ‘Oi, Brandes why are you so fat?’

EB: ‘Because every time I shag your wife she gives me a biscuit.’

Then there's Rod Marsh to Ian Botham:

RM: ‘So how's your wife and my kids?’

It’s embarrassing that Australians are regarded as the best and most active sledgers in the world and continue to make international headlines for it.

David Warner’s recent abusive demand for an opponent to "speak English" earned him a fine of half his match fee. 

Michael Clarke sledged James Anderson warning him to "get ready for a broken f@&!% arm."

This flies in the face of Cricket Australia’s charter of the Spirit Of The Game that calls for ‘respect for your opponents’.  It is against the Spirit Of The Game ‘to seek to distract an opponent either verbally or by harassment’.  And the charter clearly states ‘There is no place for any act of violence on the field of play.’ 

‘Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.’
                                
James BaldwinNotes Of A Native Son

Kids can freely access online star player endorsements of sledging.  When interviewed by Sir Michael Parkinson, Shane Warnehe openly credited Alan Border with this tactic for getting his mind back on the game:

"The one thing he does that worked for him was to sledge someone – just pick someone in the opposition and pick a fight with them."

While the standard of on-field exchanges has slid from amusing banter to ugly abuse, there’s also a movement against bullying with the Pledge Not To Sledge that encourages a more modern, civilized approach to playing cricket, specifically.  But it should apply to all sportspeople, fans as well as parents on the sidelines.

Sledging isn’t sporting prowess.  It’s dirty tricks and bullying dressed up to look like strategy.  It’s in the same handbook of ‘tactics’ as Hopate’s finger and Tyson giving Evander Holyfield an earful.

Pro-sledgers like Aaron Finch have publicly supported Warner saying ‘sledging is fine – it’s been happening forever’.  That’s a lame reason to continue any activity.  Slavery has been happening forever, too. 

A primary school teacher witnessed students copying the behavior of sports stars they admire and wrote:

"It’s disquieting to see 8 year olds spitting, diving, cheating if they can get away with it [and] displaying threatening behavior in words and gestures.  The behaviour they copy is often that which is most despicable and that which is given most publicity."

If sledging is an admirable, legitimate strategy to assist players winning in sport, why isn’t it being taught in schools?  

Renée Brack is a journalist, media producer and adventurer.

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