Sportsmanship in 2017
When the Great Recorder comes to write against your name
He’ll ask not if you won or lost,
But how you played the Game!
I’ve chosen my favourite moments of sportsmanship in 2017. These are moments where athletes have reminded us about keeping sport in perspective. They remind us that you don’t have to win at all costs, cheat, abuse umpires, and denigrate opponents. Yes, you can be competitive and still be a decent human being.
1. Roger Federer in the Hopman Cup
Before winning the Australian Open, Roger Federer played in the Hopman Cup. He’s playing 19-year-old Alexander Zverev. Zverev takes the first set.
Now Zverev is serving and up 15-0. Zverev aces Federer, but it is called a fault.
‘Close, very close,’ says Federer, indicating that the umpire’s call may have been wrong. Zverev only has one challenge left, but on Federer’s words, and urging from the crowd, he takes it. Hawk-Eye reveals the ball barely touching the line, but enough for the serve to be good. Thirty-love to Zverev. The crowd is cheering, and both Zverev and Federer are smiling. Zverev points to Federer as he calls to the crowd, ‘I’ve got to thank him’. Federer loses the match in three sets.
2. Roger Federer in the Australian Open (plus a special mention to Rafael Nadal)
Roger Federer again? I bet you’re not really surprised. He has won the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award 13 times in the last 14 years, including last year.
His Australian Open victory speech was one of the most gracious I have heard. He spent a whole minute of the three and a half-minute speech acknowledging his opponent, Rafael Nadal, including these words:
Tennis is a tough sport, there are no draws, but if there was to be one I would have been happy to accept a draw tonight and share it with Rafa really…. You guys worked so hard over the years and deserve everything but more, so I wish you continued success this year and hopefully for many more years to come. Stay on the tour, keep playing Rafa please. Tennis needs you, so thanks for everything you do.
Also worth a mention is Rafa Nadal, for the way he accepted his runners-up trophy.
3. Juan Martin del Potro in the French Open
On to the French Open, where Juan Martin del Potro showed great compassion for an opponent in their second round match. Early in the third set, at one set all, Nicolas Almagro stops, places his hands on his knees and stands looking down for 30 seconds, before falling backwards onto the court loudly sobbing.
Before he falls, del Potro is already over the net on his way to check on Almagro, while signalling for help. He kneels beside him, consoling him, while Almagro is attended to. He then accompanies Almagro back to his seat, embracing him, before sitting beside him where he continues to comfort and console his rival.
Almagro retired from the match due to a knee injury.
‘I just do what my heart feels,’ del Potro said. ‘I told him that tennis is important, but health matters more than tennis in this case.’
4. Matthew Rees in the London Marathon
It is a beautiful thing to see a tough competitor stop to help an opponent in trouble. That’s also what Matthew Rees did in the London Marathon. Three hundred metres from finishing, Rees stopped to help a stranger who was close to collapsing.
‘I decided to forget my race,’ Rees explained. ‘He had come so far and after 26 miles of running I wanted him to make the finish.’
Rees sacrificed his own chance of a personal best to ensure that David Wyeth finished. Rees supported Wyeth physically and verbally across the line.
The fact that Princes William and Harry were in the crowd to see it all adds a nice touch to this story.
5. Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series
In baseball, the LA Dodgers fought a close World Series championship with the Houston Astros. After the Dodgers lost the Series 4-3, they took out a full-page ad in the Houston Chronicle:
6. Venezuela baseball in the Little League
It happened too in the Little League, when Venezuela played the Dominican Republic in an elimination match. Edward Uceta collapsed in tears after two runs were scored off his final pitch to take Venezuela from 2-1 down, to win 3-2. Instead of celebrating, Venezuelan coaches and players ran to pick up Uceta and embrace him. Nice.
7. Pacific nations in the Rugby League World Cup
Okay, time to talk about the Rugby League World Cup. Forget the Kiwis’ results – what about the unity and respect that we witnessed between teams from the Pacific?
There was plenty of nervousness before Tonga played Samoa in Hamilton, as the rivalry had turned into street violence between some fans. But the teams themselves were having none of that. On the field, Tongan and Samoan players embraced and knelt in prayer together.
The same thing happened when Samoa played Fiji.
After their humiliating loss to Fiji, the Kiwis joined arms with the Fijians to sing a hymn. And then after the Fijians lost to Australia, there they are in the dressing room, joined by some of the Australian team, still singing.
And I had the privilege to witness Tongans on and off the field praying and singing after their controversial loss to England. They taught us some lessons about how to support your team.
8. Ellyse Perry in the Big Bash
Time for a woman. She’s an Aussie, but she needs mentioning. Ellyse Perry hit a massive six in Big Bash cricket, that hit a young spectator in the face. Perry immediately ran into the crowd to see the boy and called for medical help. The boy was taken to hospital, and Perry phoned him the next day to see how he was doing. Happily he was released from hospital and doing fine.
I’m pretty embarrassed to have just one woman on this list. The Women’s Big Bash is great, and I hope we can see more like this in our media in the future.
9. Ajinkya Rahane in the Indian Premier League
Ajinkya Rahane of the Rising Pune Supergiant is another cricketer who stood out for sportsmanship. He took a brilliant catch on the boundary, but signalled to the umpires that it was in fact six runs, as his foot had touched the rope.
10. Lewis Hamilton in the Hungarian Grand Prix
In the Hungarian Grand Prix, Valterri Bottas was leading Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton, but was ordered to let Hamilton overtake him, to allow Hamilton to chase down two Ferrari drivers. But Hamilton was unable to catch them, and in the final lap he slowed down to allow Bottas to get ahead of him once more and claim third place. This move cost Hamilton three competition points which could have been crucial at the end of the season. In a nice end to the story, Hamilton did eventually win the 2017 World Drivers’ Championship with plenty of points to spare.
11. Claudio Ranieri in the English Premier League (along with, believe it or not, Jose Mourinho)
Finally, Leicester City football manager Claudio Ranieri became a victim of his own success, after overseeing perhaps the biggest rags-to-riches story of 2016 to win the Premier League. But in February, two weeks after being assured of ‘unwavering support’ by the club, he was sacked, with the team in 17th place. There were cries of foul from fans, players and fellow managers, but Ranieri himself remained dignified. He thanked the club, supporters and media for an ‘amazing adventure’.
‘It was a time of wonderfulness and happiness that I will never forget,’ he said. ‘It’s been a pleasure and an honour to be a Champions [sic] with all of you.’
Even Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho (who once said Ranieri was old and a loser), took time to acknowledge the achievement of Ranieri and the unfairness of his sacking. Mourinho wore the initials ‘CR’ on his shirt, posted his support on Instagram and spoke about Ranieri for nearly a minute in a press conference. Always full of surprises is Jose.
So, what did I miss? What was your favourite moment of sportsmanship in 2017?