Monday, June 3, 2013

Lessons in Sportsmanship

Sportsmanship is something near and dear to my heart.

The reason that I didn't want to go to the Women's Canada vs USA soccer team this past weekend was my fear of the fans' lack of sportsmanship. I didn't imagine that an athlete's actions would end up being the bigger story.

I was as upset as every one else in Canada about last summer's Canada-USA Olympic result. The lack of sportsmanship by a USA player during the match accompanied by an inexperienced or intimidated referee led to a tying goal. Canada could have come back and won the game but we didn't.

I do believe that if Canada had won that game and then lost in the final, our women's national team would not be as loved and have the support it does today. A silver medal without the controversy would not have the same attention as a bronze with controversy.

Everything happens for a reason and perhaps that game was crucial for women's soccer in Canada.

When I learned that Canada would play USA in Toronto, my initial reaction was to want to be there, but the tweets I saw from Canadian players as well as fans made me realize that I did not want to go. The tweets were talking about revenge, about counting the seconds when the USA goalie held the ball, etc.

I was reminded of the men's national team we went to see at BMO field last year against St. Lucia. You can read my blog post here (mostly about the positives). By half-time, our daughter was in tears because of the fans' unsportsmanlike behaviour. Rather than cheering our own team, they were making fun of and taunting the opposing team. Luckily there was a section with lots of seats so we were able to move to a more respectful location.

I love to support Canada in sports but being proved right about last night's "unfriendly friendly" vs USA means I won't be looking to go to a soccer game anytime soon (or hockey with fans who boo anthems).

I don't want to be in a crowd who would boo or disrespect our opponent's team. I find it unfortunate that an athlete decided to behave more abominably. Many players kiss their jersey after scoring. They do it with joy and pride. Sydney Leroux didn't do it last night with this internal joy but external taunt to the fans that she believed taunted her (there are opposing stories to the degree of this taunting). Two wrongs don't make a right. What a role model she could have been to have reacted with grace and joy at scoring for herself and her team.

Fans are anonymous. Most of the fans at the game were probably respectful. The minority ruin it for the rest.

I have to argue with the Toronto/Canadian media pegging Alex Morgan as the "villain" in this match. She scored twice on great goals against less than stellar defence. Her post-match interview was very respectful. So for me, she scored the USA goals, but is not a villain at all.

Let's celebrate our achievements and victories without rubbing it in the other team's face. Let's win and lose with humility and respect.

Let's sing and cheer our anthems and respect the opposing team's anthem.

Nelson Mandela said:
"Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. Sport can awaken hope where there was previously only despair."
I wish more sports fans and athletes would live by this statement.

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