Potholes and own goals

2010-02-03 00:00

WHAT do deteriorating roads and sport have in common? Saddened by the recent upheavals in Cricket South Africa and angered by yet more unfixed potholes on our roads, I find myself wondering what the world of roads might learn from the world of sport, and I find that there is an important lesson.

Let me start with sport. Here we have an astonishing success story, if sheer growth in numbers and wealth in a short time is our norm. Today it is common to find stadia packed several times a week all over the world, as fans pay their money, the turnstiles click open and the stands fill. Even more impressive but less visible is the vast television following of sports like soccer, cricket, tennis, the Olympics and, in the United States, grid­iron football.

A century ago there was nothing like this. Nor anything like the huge sums of money paid to sports icons and generated by their teams. Nor, I suspect, anything like the disgrace that comes when those icons cheat on and off the field, surely the worst examples of scoring an own goal, which means scoring against your own team, yourself and the many who looked up to you.

In the field of applied ethics sport is a source of endless fascination, not least because it brings together so many areas of interest. Media, education, business, health, doping, law, politics, diet, entertainment, sponsorship and leadership all intersect in sport, as well as the values of the various sporting codes themselves.

What underlies the phenomenal growth and success of sport? Two ethical realities stand out for me: rules and dedication. Sporting codes are defined by their rules and thrive only when the rules are respected, observed, policed by umpires and referees, and where necessary, enforced — and when all who are involved give of their best as dedicated players.

Behind every century on the cricket field, every hat trick of goals or wickets, every Dusi or Comrades completed and every winning drop goal like Joel Stransky’s in the 1995 Rugby World Cup final, lie hundreds of hours of training and practice.

Exactly the same holds for good roads. No matter how well laid they are at the beginning, unless there is regular, systematic, dedicated maintenance by people who know what to do and do it properly, the potholes appear, grow, deepen and start destroying surfaces that were once excellent, not to speak of the injury and even death the deterioration causes for road

users. As in sport and elsewhere, quality roads depend on dedication to the task in hand.

I hope that the coming Soccer World Cup gives us sport at its best, and with it the best in all the many facets of activity that go with it. And I hope that those who are not maintaining our roads as they should will discern sport’s deeper lesson of dedicated hard work and start playing the game. To accept payment for anything less is to cheat.

• Martin Prozesky is an independent applied ethics consultant and emeritus professor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

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