Image: Unsplash / Marvin Ronsdorf
Image: Unsplash / Marvin Ronsdorf

Are international bodies forcing passion out of sport?

Following the third test between South Africa and England, Kagiso Rabada was banned from participating in the fourth test between the two nations. He was issued with a ruling by the ICC which accused him of “using language, actions or gestures which disparage or which could provoke an aggressive reaction from a batter upon his or her dismissal during an international match”.

This question around what constitutes passion, and what is simply bad sportsmanship is a question that has been raging within sporting hierarchy for many years.

You would expect that, following a ruling such as this, Rabada would have made some kind of offensive gesture or used insulting language towards the England team, however, Rabada has instead been banned as a result of a simple celebration. Yes, this celebration may have been slightly overly aggressive to Joe Root, who he had just dismissed (Rabada screamed in Root’s face), but should someone really be banned as a result of a celebration, which is surely a show of passion that every fan of sport wants to see. 

This question around what constitutes passion, and what is simply bad sportsmanship is a question that has been raging within sporting hierarchy for many years, triggered by the outlawing of football players taking their shirts off in celebration in 2004. What is clear, however, is that this debate is purely limited to the governing bodies of institutions with normal fans seem to have little care for how players for the team they’re supporting, or even the opposition, celebrate. 

In fact, one of the common criticisms of sporting teams in general in recent years is that they’ve lost passion for the team or country that they are representing. Full-blown, passionate celebrations of a goal, try, or wicket are far more subdued than they used to be, usually involving some pre-arranged team routine, with little if any involvement of the fans. In this case, bodies such as the ICC and FIFA’s rules are only serving to further detachment between the players and their fans. 

These celebrations, in the age of huge wealth in sport, are ones that maintain a link between players and fans, in a shared passion for the team they are representing and the sport that they are playing.

The key defence on the part of these sporting bodies for these relatively recent rules is in the fact that celebrations can incite crowd violence or discontent, but instances of this are in fact very rare. One of the many celebrations in a footballing context that has been outlawed more recently is running into a crowd and celebrating with the fans, something that will now reward the player with a yellow card (and has on occasions led to a red). Supposedly, this will incite violence not only of the opposition but also of the scorer’s own fans. In terms of inciting the opposition’s violence, this is possible if the player celebrates by jumping into the opposition’s fans and celebrating with them, something I have yet to see (and doubt I ever will). On top of this, when your team has just scored, the immense passion that comes with that means that violence on your own part, against your own player, is simply incredulous. 

This restriction on passion was not called for by the fans, and could ultimately distil interest in sports into the future.

In Rabada’s case, the ICC was concerned as to whether his celebration would incite a reaction from Root himself. This is perfectly understandable, although you could ask whether, at the same time, surely Root’s reaction is as good an exemplification to younger fans of sportsmanship, in keeping his cool, as Rabada’s lack of it in his celebration. Therefore, international bodies are going a little too far in their actions in limiting the passion in sports we all love so dearly. These celebrations, in the age of huge wealth in sport, are ones that maintain a link between players and fans, in a shared passion for the team they are representing and the sport that they are playing. This restriction on passion was not called for by the fans, and could ultimately distil interest in sports into the future. Maybe, just for once, the bigwigs at FIFA and the ICC should look to the fans when determining the future of their sport.

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