16 Dec 2020

Bidwell: The good, the bad and the ugly of sport in 2020

2:28 pm on 16 December 2020

Opinion - This is by no means an exhaustive look at the sporting year.

Cameron Smith

Hamish Bidwell's favourite modern era rugby league player Cameron Smith. Photo: Photosport

In the interests of full disclosure I have to point out that there are various codes and competitions that I boycott completely. Similar is true when it comes to the sports coverage I consume.

But given we're going over 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly' of sport in 2020 on RNZ's Extra Time podcast this week, here's a print point of view to go with it.

The Good

Recency bias plays a part here for me.

I'm delighted that rugby has begun a discussion about concussion. I have doubts about where that discussion will go and what the game's appetite is to fully accept and tackle the issue, but at least we're underway.

No-one wants players to suffer brain injuries but nor - to this point - has anyone seriously done anything to prevent them. Let's hope they will now.

The postponement of the Tokyo Olympic Games was heartening, but not as much as a poll suggesting people in Japan want them cancelled entirely. Hear, hear.

I'd also like to recognise the deeds of two champion athletes.

Cameron Smith is my favourite rugby league player of the modern era and I was thrilled to see him claim another NRL title this year. Just as good was that, at the time of writing, he still hadn't announced whether he will play on next year.

Various media types seek to discredit Smith at every turn and have demanded he announce his retirement. Smith's response has been a dignified silence.

To me, great athletes don't proclaim themselves. They don't demand respect or seek to embarrass or belittle others.

Nor do they always have to win. Or even produce a stunning performance.

Jin Young Ko of Korea reacts on the 18th hole during the continuation of the final round of the 75th U.S. Women's Open Championship at Champions Golf Club Cypress Creek Course.

Golfer Jin Young Ko. Photo: AFP /Getty

Golfer Jin Young Ko finished tied for second at this week's United States Women's Open Championship. For health reasons Ko has spent the bulk of this year in her native Korea, rather than play in the United States and Europe and defend the major championship titles she won in 2019.

The 25-year-old arrived for the US Open rusty and shot a two-over par 73 in the first round to sit tied for 55th. But she kept grinding over the subsequent three rounds, kept trying to make pars and kept trying to stay in contention.

One by one all the frontrunners fell over until, by the end of the tournament, only compariot A Lim Kim remained ahead of Ko.

The best athletes always find a way. They don't give up when the going's difficult or roll out a variety of excuses.

Ko didn't win the US Open, but she produced the performance of a champion.

The Bad

The NBA has a lot to answer for.

Athletes the world over take their lead from these players and rarely in a good way.

Many NBA players are brats. Many sulk and demand trades from one team to another. No matter what their contract status is or how much they're paid, if they don't want to play, they don't play.

The Houston Rockets' James Harden.

Houston Rockets superstar James Harden wants to be traded to a new NBA team. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

It's a me-first environment, where the whims of the stars are indulged at every turn.

The self-aggrandising and lack of class have seeped into other sports and more and more we see individuals putting themselves ahead of teams.

It's ironic to see some rugby players here carry themselves with the swagger of NBA superstars when our only NBA player - Steven Adams - is one of the least-affected athletes you will find.

The Ugly

Why can't we treat women with respect?

There are headlines in Australia at the moment about a toxic culture in their national women's hockey team. Of bullying and fat shaming and the like.

The type of stuff we know about only too well here.

Canoeing and gymnastics have been under the spotlight this year, just as hockey and football were previously.

In recent weeks we've had two very high-profile rugby league players in Australia facing trial on sexual assault charges. Last week a woman in Australia was awarded damages for being wrongly identified as being in a sex tape unlawfully made and distributed by another rugby league player.

World Cup Gymnastics, Hisense Arena, Melbourne, Australia, 24 February 2017.


Sadly, we could go on and on when it comes to these types of incidents.

Sport has its merits but, if we're being absolutely honest, we all suspect there are grubby things going on all over the place. Drug taking and corruption and match fixing and a variety of other stuff that's hard to prove and even harder to weed out.

The mistreatment of women should not be among them. There's no excuse for it and it has to stop.

Not only can governing bodies do better, they have to. And we have to make sure they do.

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