Late last week the ABC 7.30 program jumped all over a story about rugby teams from one of Sydney’s prominent private schools “tackling sheep” as part of a training drill at a pre-season training camp held on a country property in NSW. School rugby officials had videoed the training session and posted it on Facebook. Officials from both the RSPCA and the NSW Farmers Federation condemned the practice as unnecessary, distressing to the animals, potentially injurious to the sheep, a poor example of animal husbandry (making sheep involved more difficult to handle in the future) and unreasonable. ABC viewers reputedly reacted with horror and anger to the report and video footage shown.
I don’t need to make any comment about the possible cruelty or lack of wisdom of this training method. That can be left to the Farmer’s Federation, the RSPCA, the courts, officials at the school in question and ABC viewers to ponder and comment on. The question I would ask is how come out of a group that included adult school rugby officials (including coaches, trainers and camp supervisors), thirty to forty odd young male athletes (around seventeen years old) and presumably a number of farmers who owned the sheep in question that no one raised the point that the activity was probably not a good idea. Did one or more of the leaders and participants actually think that the whole idea was pretty barmy but, for some reason, held their tongues?
I suppose my question is about whether there is some kind of “groupthink” that exists in sporting circles (especially sporting teams) where an individual’s good judgement can be suspended. Perhaps, when a sporting group is focused on its group goals, the higher good of achieving those goals overrides the individual’s normal values and enables them to do things that they would not normally do. Perhaps belief in the essential “goodness” of the group combined with a fear of standing alone against the group and its leaders (coaches, trainers, team captains and leadership group) and not wanting to appear to not support the team is enough to enforce silence when something an individual might think is a bit dodgy is proposed.