Team Talk by Chris Stafford

When Athletes Lose Sight of Sportsmanship

Hope Solo

When elite athletes assume entitlement and forget their responsibilities the principles of sportsmanship are undermined. Chris Stafford discusses how bad sportsmanship marred the Rio Olympic Games and sent the wrong message to future Olympians.

Definition of sportsmanship: fair play, respect for opponents, and polite behavior by someone who is competing in a sport or other competition – conduct (as fairness, respect for one’s opponent, and graciousness in winning or losing) becoming to one participating in a sport.

Chris Stafford

Chris Stafford

As I cogitate the aftermath of the Rio Olympic Games it may seem unnecessary to remind anyone involved in sport, in any shape or form, what the definition of sportsmanship is, much less an Olympian. Alas, sadly and regrettably the notion of sportsmanship was lost to some athletes at these games and I for one was left bewildered and profoundly disappointed for all of us; especially future generations.


What are the principles of sportsmanship if they are not epitomized by elite athletes?

As a life-long sport’s aficionado, advocate and one-time athlete I’ve watched every Olympic Games for as long as I can remember. I’ve attended a few games along the way reporting for media outlets from print to broadcast, cheered my favorited teams, followed sports for the first time and some for the only time during an Olympics, been inspired as records were broken, heroes were made and sport was celebrated at the highest level. This is what sport was all about – the best of the best from every nation inspiring youth around the world. Yes, all those things and so much more because sport is deeply entrenched in our cultures, lifestyles, and of course commerce.

So imagine my disappointment and sadness that mid way through the Rio Olympic Games as cameras follow every move and expression of every Olympian, I watch as an attitude is emerging that is not even disguised. Athletes publicly showing disdain towards other athletes. To say that it’s unsportsmanlike is a understatement. In my mind, it’s disgraceful and should never happen. Where are the coaches reprimanding them for this poor behavior? Of course it sends all the wrong messages to every aspiring Olympian if their heroes behave this way. A sidewards glance, a scowl, even showing a finger towards other athletes for whatever reason, and yes, they may have had their grievances but where is their focus now? After all, it’s their single-minded focus that has got them to this level in the first place, yet they become distracted and feel the need to show their resentment during a competition. Really! What are the principles of sportsmanship if they are not epitomized by elite athletes? They are the ones that should be setting an example.

…surely something is very wrong with our society when entitlement overshadows sportsmanship.

And yes, of course competitive rivalry is what ignites a performance but not like this. This is resentment that should have nothing to do with the race on the day. It’s become about the politics and why an athlete who was tested positive may have won their appeal or a victim of state corruption stands before them to challenge them on the field or in the pool. It’s about one athlete having more testosterone than another; of sour grapes at losing a game. And yes, some of those heroes have fallen from grace as a result of their actions and words and their implied disdain in the heat of defeat.

 When racial prejudice, jealousy and poor character manifest themselves to this extent on the field of play.

What kind of example is this permeating through those beloved and feted elite athletes who are privileged to represent their sport, their country, their community. This is not what we want our children to see. Watching their role models cry in defeat, not because they didn’t perform at their best on the day and are disappointed in themselves but because they were just downright poor losers looking for an excuse or someone else to blame and not disguising their feelings but making a point of displaying them towards their fellow competitors. That’s not sport.

When U.S. Soccer player Hope Solo referred to Sweden as a ‘bunch of cowards’ following the USA’s  4-3 defeat in a penalty shootout, what message would that send to young fans? Hopefully, they also heard that Solo was not only suspended for six months by U.S. Soccer for this appalling public outburst but has also had her contract with the national team terminated. That has to be the take away message here.

READ: The Wretched Women of the 800m

And when British 800m runner Lynsey Sharp (6th) and Canadian Melissa Bishop (4th) consoled each other on the finishing line of the final in Rio because they did not reach the podium and ignored the gold medalist Caster Semenya (RSA) who extended her arm to them, this sent an even more powerful message in the name of bad sportsmanship. Like so many I was disgusted by this rebuff and the comments that followed from Sharp making her defeat all about Semenya’s higher level of testosterone, as if that alone decided the winner.

When Usain Bolt sprinted to yet another gold medal in the 100m, I didn’t hear the third and fifth place finishers; Canadian Andre de Grasse or South Africa’s Akani Simbine complain about his level of testosterone making him unbeatable. Did you?!

Hyperandrogenism* has become a burning issue during these games and since it’s been covered elsewhere by our writers, I will just add that in the context of sportsmanship this is not cheating, doping or manipulation to gain a sporting advantage. Some people are just born with more testosterone than others so it’s time already to accept this is nature and nothing more. That may be too much to wish for so I can only hope science and common sense will prevail.

“If she wins, I will cheer” – Hyperandrogenism and the Requirements of Womanhood


In the meantime, my plea to athletes, coaches, parents and governing bodies is to never lose sight of why we chose to participate in sport. What we value most of being involved in our sporting community and what it does for us, of how we should at all times respect our fellow competitors, why we champion them in victory and encourage them in defeat. Their’s is not to assume entitlement or honor no matter the cost, their’s is to carry the flag of their nation or their club with pride and dignity, embodying sportsmanship whatever the outcome of their sporting endeavor. For if they don’t, the Olympic flame will not be the shining beacon that lights the way for future generations because of what’s best in sport.

n a state characterized or caused by an excessive secretion of androgens by the adrenal cortex, ovaries, or testes. The clinical significance in males is negligible, so the term is used most commonly with reference to the female. The common manifestations in women are hirsutism and virilism. Hyperandrogenism is often caused by either ovarian or adrenal diseases.


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