We know what it is, but what do we call it. Fight. Stoush. Stink. Blue. Donnybrook. Altercation. An exchange of pleasantries. Ruckus. Brouhaha. Bit of Biffo. Fracas. Melee. Free for all.
The whatever-you-want-to-call-it between the Australian and Filipino basketball teams turned an otherwise humdrum game of international basketball into an international incident.
There are as many angles to take on this incident as there were punches thrown.
Sport is a masculine area of social life. Let’s look at this list of words – physical, assertive, tough, rough, competitive, intense, intimidating, risky, aggressive, destructive, and violent. None of them look out of place when describing sport, but they are actually from a well-accepted list of theoretical terms commonly associated with definitions of sports violence. Sport and violence are certainly not poles apart.
The circumstances were ripe for a whatever-you-want-to-call-it. Home team being beaten comfortably. Some niggle. Some sledging. Equal parts nationalism and patriotism. A push, a shove and then a great big whack (by an Australian). The Filipino bench players take a few steps forward, and ‘fly the flag’ in support of their team mates. Somehow the Australian bench players resist the natural instinct to do likewise. And then it was on like Donkey Kong, except they threw chairs rather than barrels. The Australian Five versus…well pretty much everyone else. The court is small, so the pandemonium easy moves off court. It was a perfect storm.
Authorities will take a dim view of the players actions, providing many with a time out and a very visible naughty seat upon which they can reflect on their behaviours. But these authorities also need to exercise some restraint. Natural justice has a few dimensions and one of them is that the punishment must fit the crime. It would be easy for FIBA, the International Basketball Federation, to throw the book at the Australian players. For example, should Daniel Kicker be sanctioned more for his elbow to the head of an opposing player simply because of what happened next? Does Thon Maker get some sort of reprieve because his flying kicks missed? Whatever the sanctions, some will say it is too much, others will say it is not enough. If this criticism occurs, then you can be confident that FIBA got it about right. What is less clear is whether or not FIBA may seek to impose sanctions on Basketball Australia (BA) or Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, its Filipino equivalent.
So far BA has played its cards well. There have been some attempts to shift responsibility for the whatever-you-want-to-call-it to the Filipinos, but the BA CEO and Chair were quick to acknowledge some responsibility. The same can be said of the players. At this stage the less they say the better. The majority of social media comments can be classified into one of two themes – “How good is this?” and “I am outraged”. BA cannot speak to the first group and they will need to placate outraged. Contrition is key to all of their messaging.
So, whatever you want to call it, basketball was not the winner.
This blog is written by Dr Geoff Dickson, Associate Professor and Head of Department of Management Sport and Tourism. His teaching and research interests include governance, interorganisational networks, leadership, strategy, risk and law in the sport industry.