A new scandal, an all-too familiar failure

Simon Smart responds to the sexting scandal in Australia's Test cricket team - and what it says about team culture.

Last week, when a friend told me about a sexting scandal involving the Australian Test Cricket team that had just hit the news, he asked me to guess who it was. I think I got through nine or ten names before, open mouthed, I said, “not Tim Paine?”.

I was not alone in my disbelief. Tim Paine had been catapulted into the Australian captaincy with the task of restoring the shattered team reputation after the South African sandpaper cheating debacle. The well-spoken family man was all about playing hard but fair cricket with integrity and sportsmanship. Most felt he had accomplished that difficult balance.

So this tawdry affair involving a junior employee, a married father, and humiliatingly explicit text messages revealed a lot more than Tim Paine’s sexual predilections.

Firstly, for all our apparent acceptance of “freedom of sexual expression” we still also appear to hold to loyalty, fidelity and honour as high virtues.

Secondly, our national game clearly has a significant problem with its culture. On Twitter this week a female journalist recounted her experience, as a 22-year-old, interviewing two legends of 1980s Australian cricket. She said their revolting sexual commentary left her shaken.

There are too many similar stories, stretching back to at least the 1970s, of our flannelled heroes being less than heroic. Is that just how it is, or could things be different?

It takes time, care and the right people in place to build and cultivate a culture of respect and integrity, especially among a group of prodigiously (but narrowly) talented young men who are paid spectacularly and feted everywhere they go.

They need guidance, challenge, and examples of how to be, not just on the field, but in life. They need a reason to be different. I wonder if Ted Lasso is available.

Image credit to Marcus Wallis.