This article defines sledging and discusses why it is practised, the different types of sledging, and its moral implications in bowls and other sports.
What is sledging?
The word “sledging” is a term used in modern sports (most often in cricket, but in tennis, bowls, and other games as well) to describe a controversial practice among athletes. It means insulting, belittling, or otherwise distracting an opponent during the game.
The idea of distracting an opponent has been around since the dawn of cricket, with frequent accounts of teasing or banter between competitors. The practice has become more newsworthy since the 1960s.
Sledging can vary from mildly humorous comments to extremely hurtful behaviors. Either way, the idea is that it will throw the opponent off mentally, emotionally, or physically – enough so that they’ll lose concentration or otherwise react in a way that will cause them to lose the game.
On the surface, the answer to that question would appear to be simply “because they can.”
Sledging is legal, so why not blurt out whatever competition-fueled thought enters your mind, in the spirit of one-upmanship? After all, what harm can there be in a little jocular back-and-forth to get everyone’s adrenaline pumping? Taken in this light, some athletes view sledging as a benign and acceptable practice.
It can even be seen as a form of entertainment, perhaps designed to delight a crowd of fans or to make oneself seem funny and confident. This is especially likely if the crowd seems to encourage it.
More often, though, there’s a self-serving edge to sledging. A player might feel that it is necessary to sledge because “everybody does it.” After all, if your opponent is likely to sledge, you might want to be the first to try it.
Or, if a competitor feels less than confident about his or her physical abilities, he or she may resort to sledging as an attempt at leveling the playing field. It might be considered just another skill or form of prowess that is needed to overcome a disadvantage and win the game.
Sledging, like bullying, can take on many forms and intensities. While the vast majority of sledging cases have been verbal, some have manifested themselves as physical threats.
Examples of sledging incidents might include:
- mild comments
- laughing at your opponent as they deliver the bowl
- sexual innuendo about an opponent’s spouse or partner
- personal insults regarding a player’s name, race, or religion
These are actual recorded sledging incidents:
- an organized five-person sledge that drove a player to tears
- a threat to break an opponent’s arm during a game
- deliberately brushing a head against an opponent’s helmet during a verbal altercation
Those who view sledging as good-hearted jocularity see nothing morally offensive about sledging. But opponents of sledging say it more often than not crosses a moral line, amounting to childish behavior at best, and emotional abuse at worst.
Tom Ryan, writing for the Sydney Morning Herald in 2015, mentioned an example of sledging that he called “brutal” and that may have led to the resignation of Australian cricket captain Kim Hughes. He cited this incident as evidence that the entire sport of cricket in Australia had “lost its moral compass.”
When sledging crosses that ethical line from mild banter to hurtful personal abuse and slurs, it is considered amoral by most players and fans. In fact, some team managers have banned sledging altogether as a way to control the situation.
But, morality aside, what about sportsmanship? Is it in the spirit of the game to sledge, or is it downright cheating?
One of the unwritten rules of bowls etiquette (and other sports, too) is to be quiet and not distract your opponent. Bowls, after all, is a game that relies heavily on concentration. To interfere with that focus just doesn’t seem fair. It can be seen as low and mean-spirited. It may all boil down to what one believes about the nature of competitive sport itself. If the purpose of an athletic game is to demonstrate physical prowess and skill, then mental trickery should have no place in sports.
But if a part of athletic competition is being mentally prepared for a challenge, then perhaps a strong athlete should be ready to take on any type of barrage, including a mental one.
Is sledging all in good fun, a tacky type of trash talk, or a degrading form of abuse? Should it be applauded, tolerated, or banned? There are many different opinions, but one thing can be said about sledging: it’s probably here to stay.