How was Phil Hughes’s death an act of ‘sport’?

Two weeks have passed since the Australian cricketer Phil Hughes (25) was killed after being struck in the head with a bouncer. And as it usually happens, the tears shed in the public domain over his death would have, by now, all but dried up.

For Hugh’s immediate kith and kin, however, the sudden demise of their loving, healthy, son, at just the start of his life, will remain a scar upon their memories forever.

How is it that the very sport that brought their son to the doorstep of magnificence, took away his very life?

Let’s face it: Had Phil Hughes been a soldier fighting in Iraq, or a journalist reporting from frontline in Syria  or a brave doctor treating an Ebola patient in rural Liberia, his death, still tragic, would have been more reconcilable.

Hell, even if he had met his death as a foolish jaywalker attempting to sprint across a busy freeway, or as a policeman after a feverish gunfight with a criminal , his death would not have been shocking – not to his parents, nor to the rest of us.

Here, he died via the auspices of the gentleman’s game. Purportedly.

A cursory glance at the definition of ‘sport’ would draw the following: As a noun, sport is “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” As a verb, sport is understood as to “play in a lively manner”. Synonyms include “to have fun” or “to amuse oneself”.

I will spare you the semantics, but sport, by all accepted definitions, carries with it an image of an entertaining, amusing, harmless, merry, friendly pastime. No dictionary links the word, in any manner, to violence, death, injury or vendetta, not at any level.

However, the level of violent injuries in sports today is almost the antithesis of sport itself. We have become a society obsessed with competitiveness, combativeness at all costs.  Even teenagers  are known to use profane language, cheat and resort to violence, at primary and high school levels, to bully, upset or intimidate. Neither is it limited to just one sport or vocation.

Becoming punch-drunk through continual cerebral damage in boxing is a clichéd norm and is certainly not amusing. Knee-replacement occurs every weekend for some hapless footballer, whose idea of entertainment is as tough as cartilage. Broken noses, brain damage, even spinal injuries are common in American football and rugby. They have become the norm in the rapid commercialisation of the game.  Flashback to this year’s FIFA World Cup reminds us that traditional, nervous, nail-biting has just been replaced by amorous biting of fleshy shoulders.

Perhaps, in the instance of the unfortunate Phil Hughes, this may have been a pure accident; but was it in fact just an accident waiting to happen?

One only needs to zoom in on the countenance of fast bowlers, operating in four day games or test matches to catch a glimpse of the frightening wickedness deigned to usher in the fear of God into batsman. The tears shed by the cricketing fraternity is plain hypocrisy, in a system that is built on crass intimidation, argued Mark Reason last week.  Likewise, our very own Telford Vice, wrote in the Sowetan, that fast bowlers are “trained to hurl nasty bouncers”.

To what end, shall we not ask?

Should batsman, by implication, become ballistic experts, skilled in the art of dodging tiny missiles aimed at their throats? What skill are we testing here precisely?

And if we are to accept that this is the nature of the game for the foreseeable future, are family members expected to simply watch the violence pan out, holding hope that in the blessed name of sport, another accident will not come to pass?

Where then, does this leave us?

The rules are not going to change.

And the barbarism I suspect is only like to surpass itself. Protection will involve more safety equipment, even suits of armor. Since there will always be money to be made, extra life insurance for your son or daughter willing to engage in some curricular activities in the name of “fun” might won’t hurt.

But there might just be an easier solution.

Why not stop the pretence, adjust the dimensions, alter the expectations?

And stop calling it sport.

Ebrahim Essa is a guest blogger on the Daily Vox.

– Featured image via Wikimedia Commons

  1. Richards says

    one freak accident in 100 yrs,let’s not get carried away,no need to change anything

    1. AssociateEd says

      According to Mark Reason: ” Four deaths in 14 months, a memorial that now includes Israeli umpire Hillel Oscar, are too many. Speed kills”

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