Bad losers v. good losers

Matt Ravden pointed me to his blog post yesterday about the Rugby World Cup.  The central question was whether – having being knocked out at the quarter-final stage – the All Blacks could still claim to be the best team in the world?  After all, winning the World Cup doesn’t automatically mean that you move straight to the top of the world rankings. 

My perspective is a semantic one.  While the All Blacks can claim (probably rightly) to have the best collection of individual rugby talent, I think the World Cup has clearly demonstrated that they’re not the best team…a team being more than the sum of its collective parts.  France were the better team in the quarter-final against New Zealand because their players dug deeper, played for each other with passion and commitment and the All Blacks couldn’t match them.  Ditto for England against Australia and, of course, against France last weekend.  I’m biased, but if there was a team of rugby players that I wanted playing for my children’s lives (or mine!) it’d be England.

The Kiwis and the Aussies have reacted very badly to losing, as you might expect.  Or should we?  The French haven’t reacted with anything like the same sense of injustice.  I’m back home in France now and almost without exception people are being magnanimous in defeat.  When dropping the kids off at school yesterday my wife was congratulated by numerous other parents, all wishing England well next weekend.  Even the French press I read on Sunday gave credit to England for the deserved victory.  It seems French people are looking forward, not back.

No doubt fans of Australia and New Zealand will trot out the old mantra, “show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.”  I can’t stand that particular motto.  It’s also true to say “show me a bad loser and I’ll show you a loser.”  Losing well, with dignity, shows more character and spirit than losing poorly and moaning about others’ poor decisions.

I think it comes down to a nation’s sense of its own identity.  Australia’s a young country, with a relatively small population and without the depth of history of an England or France.  It’s a massive country with a small town attitude.  A huge proportion of the Australian national identity is centred on its sporting success and when that falls apart, there isn’t a great deal else to turn to.  While sporting success to the English and French is important and desired, we’ve all got a lot of other rich and diverse stuff – film, art, music, history, business, architecture – to get excited about, so we tend to move on a bit more quickly.

There are perhaps some lessons there for our Antipodean friends.  But then, we’ve probably been teaching them enough over the last couple of weeks.

6 thoughts on “Bad losers v. good losers

  1. Matt Ravden says:

    At last, a couple of forums to rant about this stuff (your blog and mine!). Briefly on the All Blacks, they are the best team – collectively as well – but they can’t get it together at World Cups. Which begs the questions, CAN they be classed as the best team? No doubt if they played England tomorrow, outside the World Cup, they’d beat us by 50 points, but so what? People used to say (Nick Farr-Jones in particular) that England made a habit of peaking between World Cups. It can safely be said that mantle has been passed to New Zealand.

    There has been some distressing comment about England’s remarkable turnaround. You saw Clive on my blog describe Setanta’s commentary. They said England’s win against France was a ‘tragedy’ for rugby. That almost brings tears to my eyes, it is so bigoted and ignorant.

    Having lived in Sydney I can honestly say their media – and occasionally people outside the media – are the nastiest bunch of people in the world. All this furore from the ARU Chairman about everyone ‘hating’ England … well, there is a lot of hate in the way they describe sport over there. The Wallabies were bigged up before they played England -superior athletes, fantastic characters, skilled players … but when they lost they were SLATED. Losers, bottlers, no-hopers … did they give credit to England? No. The tone was, it would have been ok if we’d been beaten by a half-decent team.

    And the way they gloated over the All Blacks loss? Again, it was full of really, genuinely nasty vitriol. I think you’re right, Pinny, that sport is simply too important to them and they don’t have it in perspective. If they did, they’d appreciate a team like England that is winning through sheer heart and spirit, and that in itself is a wonderful sporting spectacle.

    Remember the last world cup? They had a voodoo Jonny Wilkinson cut-out in one of their papers – designed to put Wilkinson off his kicks. They urged the public to keep the English players awake by making a din outside their Manly hotel. They are, basically, desperate.

  2. Jake J says:

    I honestly think NZ has very good sportsmanship and don’t think it’s fair that the first post is lumping the 2 countries together as bad losers. I was born in NZ and now live in Australia and can tell you that the media and general sportmanship values leave a lot to be desired in this country compared to NZ. NZ are undeniably the most consistant winning rugby union side in the world. They are always in the quarter finals of the RU World cup and have won 1 which is only 1 less than Australia and England so not much in it when it comes down to a 1 off game to decide the victor. Check out for some stats. By rhe way, how ignorant are your last 2 paragraphs??? Sounds like you have know idea about Australia but I will agree about the poor sportsmanship and biased, arrogant media here.

  3. Jake J says:

    just noticed typo in last sentence lol

  4. Mark says:

    Hi Jake, thanks for the comments. And no problem about the typo…I understand that in the heat of passionate commenting grammar can slip.

    It’s interesting reading the post again as it’s obviously quite old now, and in recent weeks both the Australian and Kiwi rugby teams have been up here thrashing (generally) the six nations teams. I’ve certainly enjoyed watching the All Blacks play, they’re an awesome team right now. But then they always are between Rugby World Cups. I reckon they’ll still choke in the next one. And most NZ rugby fans would say that RWC semi-finals don’t represent the success they expect from the All Blacks.

    I’m not sure the last two paragraphs are really ignorant are they? They’re certainly arrogant though! But forgive me. At the time I had something to crow about.

  5. Elise R says:

    Comments that accuse Australia and New Zealand of being bad losers in sport are subjectively loose at the very least and unsubstantiated at best. No commentator of any worth would make such generalized statements without giving some objective review of facts. I note that such comments mainly come from British sources with Australia being the principal target.
    The writer here broadly hypothesizes that Australia is ‘young country’ whose smaller number of citizens draw on notoriety in sport because of their lack of historical development in other forms of endeavour. To begin with, such comments are racist and focus on white habitation as the principal indicator of cultural civilization. Furthermore, the implication of the writer’s use of the ‘young’ label is that history and culture too are a basis for competition with Australia always following in the backwash and like a younger sibling, never able to match the efforts of his elders. Again, in trying to cast a bad light on the nature of Australian behaviour in sport, the writer (perhaps unintentionally) negates and therefore insults the ancient culture of indigenous Australians. I wouldn’t like to focus on such comments themselves since to do so would give them more importance than they are worth. I would however, like to address the notion of reactions to losing generally by any sportsman, woman or team. I would suggest that anyone who engages in sport plays to win and never enjoys the feeling of losing. To me, a poor loser is one who employs unsportsmanlike methods, behaviour and rhetoric in order to demoralize or downgrade the winning expertise of his/her opponent or simply to ‘get even’ in some way. I would suggest that there is not a country on the face of the earth who does not exhibit quotable examples of such behaviour. Having researched a great many such instances, I will not go into the specifics of this. I can say however, that there are certainly many instances where English sportsmen/women and their spectators have exhibited poor behaviour in a broad range of sports (I won’t comment further on English football/soccer). There are certainly as many British instances as with any other country. What I would like to question is the regularity of these accusations coming principally from English sources. I would suggest that such comments, by their subjective nature and broad lack of concrete substantiation are themselves examples of poor sportsmanship. I feel many British still nostalgically think of themselves as world leaders rather than equals and clutch at straws to find ways putting others down in order to maintain such superior self identification.

  6. Me says:

    Hi Elise.

    This is because we stuffed the Aussies in the cricket, isn’t it?

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