Does sledging have a role in the modern game?

Sledging has always been an inherent part of sport. After all, a player’s aim is to throw the opposition off their game so they can gain an advantage.

But sometimes it’s taken too far and lines are crossed.

A sledging incident from the VFL last month came to light this week after it resulted in a minor falling out between two Geelong players.

The Age has reported that during a Geelong versus Box Hill match, Cats’ forward Mitch Clark sledged Hawthorn player Teia Miles over his sister. The woman in question is also the partner of fellow Cats’ player Mitch Duncan.

The comments were seen as “highly offensive” and Duncan apparently confronted Clark about the incident. But the players resolved the issue after Clark apologised.

The Geelong Football Club also refused to take any further action believing the incident has been dealt with appropriately.

“As you would hope with these sort of things, when two guys have a bit of a disagreement, they sit down, talk about it, shake hands and move on, which is what happened four weeks ago,” Coach Chris Scott said on Fox Footy. “We prefer it didn’t happen but in the scheme of things, I think it’s been handled well by the relevant people.”

But should we still accept incidents like this? Does sledging still have a part in the modern game?

Over the years, the AFL has clearly defined what is considered acceptable and what is not.

In its vilification and discrimination policy, the league clearly states that no player or official should “engage in conduct” which “incites hatred towards… or discrimination against” a person based on “race; religion; gender; colour; sexual preference, orientation or identity; or special ability or disability”.

This is fair and appropriate. After all, we live in a diverse society and we want our competition to be inclusive for all. Offensive language and behaviour will only hinder that aim.

And for the most part, the players speak well on and off the field. They know what they can and can’t say, and they easily avoid any sort of offensive comments.

“I would have thought, in this day and age, you don’t go anywhere you shouldn’t,” AFL Football Operations Manager Mark Evans told 3AW.

But mistakes do happen in the heat of the moment. While these incidents are happening few and far between, there will always be someone who takes it too far.

As long as everyone is aware of when that line has been crossed, and sincerely apologises when they do, then we can move forward and limit these situations from happening again.

But sledging still has a place in the AFL. Jibes over poor performance, or talking up your own abilities, adds humour and a certain tension to the game.

So let’s keep the well-placed, humorous sledge. It definitely has a place in the 2016 game.

But offensive comments and bigotry? Let’s keep it out of the sport.

(First published on The Roar on July 13th 2016)

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