For The Love of Sport

I never thought my first blog would be about this topic. Over the years many, many things have ruffled my feathers, but this one got under my skin.

I love sport. I love the idea of fair competition, of knowing that rules will be honored. I love that above the rules there is an unspoken expectation that everyone, the fans, the players, the coaches, will give their all to preserve the spirit of the game.  I love the idea that a sport will bring together masses of very different people for one reason, they love sport, too.
Nowhere is the spirit of the game more important than the Olympic Games.

In the name of all the competitors I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, committing ourselves to a sport without doping and without drugs, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honor of our teams.

That is the Olympic athlete’s oath. Here is the Olympic coach’s oath:

In the name of all the coaches and other members of the athletes’ entourage, I promise that we shall commit ourselves to ensuring that the spirit of sportsmanship and fair play is fully adhered to and upheld in accordance with the fundamental principles of Olympism.

Spirit of sportsmanship, glory of sport, honor of our teams..sounds pretty good to my sport-loving ears. One tiny problem though, one women’s soccer coach didn’t get it..any of it.
During group play of the 2012 Olympic Games the FIFA women’s coach of the year, Norio Sasaki, didn’t get it, none of it. Not the spirit of sportsmanship, the glory of the sport, honor of our teams, not even the spirit of fair play. Norio Sasaki, the winning coach of the 2011 WWC, in a group match against South Africa told his Japan side not to score. South Africa up until this match had no points in their group and no chance of advancing, so why would he tell his team not to score? It really doesn’t take much to figure it out if you looked at the tournament bracket, by Japan playing to a draw instead of a win they would face a team Sasaki thought they would have a better chance to beat.

Smart thinking, you say? Gamesmanship, you say? Disgraceful, I say. Telling his players not to score so they would face an easier opponent goes against everything the Olympic Games stand for. Spirit of sportsmanship? There was no respect for his opponent in playing not to win and no respect for his players by telling them basically he thought they couldn’t win against the best competitors. Glory of sport? No one watching or playing in that game felt any glory, of any kind. Honor of our teams? What kind of honor is it to disrespect your opponent by not playing your best and playing to win? Spirit of fair play? Technically, he did nothing wrong, but that does not mean he didn’t violate the spirit of fair play.

Of all the world’s sporting events the Olympic Games are the pinnacle of playing for the love of the game. Many athletes struggle everyday just to be able to train. They often have to beg and borrow just to get to the events needed to qualify and then having qualified, beg some more for money to actually compete in the Games. For some, playing in the Olympic Games will be the greatest accomplishment of their lives. To disrespect the efforts and struggles of each of those athletes by not playing to win is unforgivable.

FIFA has decided not to discipline their women’s coach of the year, Norio Sasaki. Both FIFA and Sasaki should be ashamed of their decisions.

UPDATE 08.02.12 – It’s been reported that Sasaki said he told his team not to score in order to avoid travel, not to face a more favorable opponent. In my mind that changes nothing.