Leading article: The virtues of being a good sport

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The Independent Culture
SUMMER HAS arrived and next week we achieve full sporting saturation, with the start of the Wimbledon Speed-Serving Contest, formerly the Lawn Tennis Championships. Time to pause and reflect, then, on the role played by sport in the moral education of our young people. It is not attractive to see eight-year-olds swearing and spitting like professional footballers, or 10-year-olds indulging in what is now known as racquet abuse. Playground kickabouts now frequently feature the so-called professional foul, not to mention the Oscar-winning dive and the thespian leg-clutching feigned injury.

Equally unpleasant is the almost complete absence of grace and modesty in victory. Contestants in children's TV gameshows are now expected to behave like copulating footballers if they can correctly answer a quiz question, while a family game of Scrabble is nowadays likely to end with a child pulling a shirt over their head and running around the room.

Our children only hold up a mirror to us adults, however. The worst offenders in promoting sporting aggression are the parents, as a cursory review of any school-field touchline will reveal. Meanwhile, the profusion of sexual metaphors in celebratory displays, from the zoo-like mountings of footballers to the champagne sprayings of motor-racers, coarsen us all. Even tennis players only shake hands over the net now after they have pranced around like pop stars for five minutes.

There may not be any direct link between this lack of restraint and football hooliganism, but it is is worth reasserting in any case the virtues of the "good sport". And we should congratulate Arturo Brizio Carter, the Mexican referee, for braving the wrath of the host nation crowds and sending off French star Zinedine Zidane on Thursday for stamping. Let us give the World Cup referees and Wimbledon umpires full backing, not just in enforcing the rules of the game, but in policing the universal rules of mutual respect.

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