Contrition, compassion & perspective: What we can learn from the sorry cricketing saga

Contrition, compassion & perspective: What we can learn from the sorry cricketing saga

How about the cricket?

I have dedicated more of the past nine days to thinking about the national male cricket team than I have previously done in my thirty five years and there is no one more surprised by that sentence than I am. Had anyone suggested to me a few weeks ago that this was a subject I would become consumed by I would have laughed. How perfectly unlikely. And yet here we are.

The ball-tampering scandal that has gripped Australia has become so much bigger than sport.

Initially, as I wrote last week, I was aghast at the brazen undertaking. I was somewhere between disgusted and disappointed that these men who are paid handsomely for the honour of representing their country would resort to such barefaced cheating. Their arrogance and entitlement was a travesty, I believed. Once again it made the divide between male and female athletes stark:  the Southern Stars, our female national cricketers, had been quietly carving up the pitch without blanket media coverage, for a fraction of the salary, without scandal.

And while I still believe what they did was shameful, by the time Thursday came around I was more circumspect. I found myself agreeing with Shane Warne, another sentence I didn’t expect to utter, that the punishment did not fit the crime. These players, Cameron Bancroft, David Warner and Steve Smith, were facing an unrelenting and international torrent of outrage and bile. It reinforces the argument posed by Jon Ronson in his book about people being shamed online: in the digital era social media readily facilitates pile-ons where a  person’s punishment far outweighs the gravity of their crime.

As author and writer Holly Wainwright aptly argued celebrated male athletes convicted of domestic violence – of glassing their girlfriends, attacking innocent women on the street –  are forgiven more readily than men who tampered with a ball.

Men brutally assaulting women isn’t ‘a national disgrace’ Wainwright observed. “None of it brings sport into disrepute, or points to a toxic culture, or sees big-name stars stood down for significant periods, losing their status and income. None of these incidents dominate the news cycle for days and days at a time.”

Indeed. It exposes the hypocrisy at play when assigning significance to various misdeeds and the result is callous. What does it say about a society that deems ball tampering more severe than assault?

Australia is undoubtedly sport-obsessed and cricket ranks highly: the ball tampering scandal makes that abundantly clear. But perspective is needed.

Watching the press conferences delivered by Cameron Bancroft and Steve Smith on Thursday evening, as they returned to Australian from South Africa, was excruciating. These young men made mistakes – no doubt – and the price they are paying for that is heavy.

Their angst and apologies were more sincere and contrite than the public ‘apologies’ we are accustomed to witnessing. There were no ‘buts’, no ‘if I caused offence’, no disbelief: their anguish was real. Their welfare needs to be considered. Their grief makes clear that right now these men ought to retreat into their families and friends, in peace.

It brings the subjects of compassion and forgiveness into focus. While initially this sorry saga seemed incredibly simple – a black and white matter of cheating – in reality it is, or least has become, far more complex.

It goes to leadership, team culture, group-think, integrity and requires nuance. The actions of Steve Smith, Cameron Bancroft and David Warner were problematic: terribly so. Consequences were necessitated to draw a line about what we will and won’t accept. Not just on a cricket pitch but from leaders, role models and public figures.

But equally these men are not the greatest villains confronting Australia. Not even close. There are far greater villains presenting far greater problems on a daily basis and in too many instances their transgressions are without consequence. Compare Steve Smith’s contrition with the “apology” Don Burke delivered on A Current Affair last year after allegations were published about his behaviour over several decades.

Their ‘mistakes’ are light years apart and yet one party has effectively got off scot-free while another is carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. The case for compassion and perspective is clear.


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