Own goal in sporting values

Own goal in sporting values

A lot has rightly been said and written about the importance of protecting sport from corrupt practices and ensuring that athletes and administrators continue to carry out their job with integrity and in the spirit of fair play.

The Prevention of Corruption in Sport Bill, repealing the 42-year-old Prevention of Corruption (Players) Act, was presented to Parliament at the beginning of March and is now being debated in second reading. The sooner it is enacted the better because, as Sport Parliamentary Secretary Clifton Grima had written this newspaper last April, cleaning sport is “essential and an important priority”.

In his piece entitled ‘Fair and clean sport’, Dr Grima wrote:

“Sport should continue to be a source of fun and enjoyment, which brings people together and strengthens communities.

“It has the potential to promote many positive values in our children and in all participants. These include discipline, commitment, perseverance, resilience, teamwork, friendship and excellence. We constantly refer to the ‘spirit of sport’, which is characterised by important values such as fair play, respect, honesty and integrity.”

Against this scenario and the lofty ideals enunciated by the Sport Parliamentary Secretary, the decision by Hibernians FC to name Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi as honorary president comes like an ice bucket shower, with no noble ideals attached to it.

Dr Mizzi still faces serious allegations from various quarters, including the government’s own anti-money-laundering agency. Even deals he negotiated as energy and health minister are being scrutinised to ensure everything was above board.

Football clubs are an integral part of a locality and can have different functions, all beneficial to the community. Thus, enjoying the patronage of personalities is commendable and should be encouraged.

Dr Mizzi’s honorary appointment, however, is likely to be a burden on the Paola football club rather than enhance its reputation or contribute to wider popular support. The decision sends the wrong message and could even cause division. It need not be pointed out that Hibernians FC is a club that caters for all.

There is another very important point to bear in mind: the role model aspect. Dr Mizzi may only have an honorary role but a role he still has and club members and athletes may well look up to him. In Dr Mizzi’s case, his position, therefore, jars with what Dr Grima had written: “Elite-level sport offers many opportunities to display these [positive] values and for role models to inspire current and potential participants.”

Given what Dr Mizzi is facing, his ‘entrepreneurial’, ‘competitive’ and ‘winning’ streaks are not the kind that genuine sport followers would like to see among the athletes and club officials.

It is, of course, one thing saying one is in favour of sporting values but ensuring that does indeed happen is much more difficult. Hibernians FC is unlikely to realise its grave mistake and make amends and it would take a lot of courage for Dr Grima to walk the talk and press for the decision to be reversed.

Young athletes determined to practise their favourite discipline cleanly and to resist any temptation of being involved in illicit behaviour that tarnishes the image of their sport can hardly be blamed if they start to doubt whether scoring an own goal has become acceptable.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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