How far is too far?

Soccer coach Pat Walker from Carlow once told me that, when I finally found something I liked doing, I’d never work another day in my life. And he was right.

That’s not to say that there aren’t tough times, even when you have the best job in the world.

There is always pressure – deadlines to be met, calls to be made, planes to be caught. Then there is the uncertainty of not knowing where the next dollar or euro or krona is coming from.

But it’s a good kind of pressure – the positive kind that keeps you focussed.

Others I know in professional sport have their dream jobs too, but they come under an entirely different kind of pressure.

And if I’m honest, I’m not sure I’d put up with it.

There is the kind of pressure you’d expect – the pressure to win, to train, to perform, which is part and parcel of any professional sportsperson’s life.

There’s the internal competition whereby your teammates are actually competing for your place on the team, but even that can be healthy enough.

What is not healthy is when that competition turns to bullying, which happened recently at a football club I have a good deal of contact with.

For no matter how much most of us dream of being professional athletes, no matter how much we love our dream jobs, there are limits.

You wouldn’t, for example, put up with your team-mates pissing on your clothes now, would you?

Or grinding a broken lightbulb into the carpet in the hope that you would cut yourself?

The kind of players who would do this to a fellow pro are neither professional nor sportsmen, and with any luck the coming transfer window will see them wind up where they belong – out of football.

And any club that allows this to happen cannot be described as being in any way professional. The deafening silence from everyone involved shows just how far removed professional sport is from the rest of society.

For you can be sure- if this had happened at any other workplace and the employer found out, the police would have been rightfully called.

Sadly these things happen all the time, especially in football clubs, where “banter” is often used to describe the low-level bullying as practiced by juveniles, often over the age of 30.

And worst of all, anyone victimised in this way who has the temerity to complain risks being ostracised and punished for breaking the code of “omerta” that rules the dressing room – and not only can they stay at the club where they were bullied, they will find it difficult to find a new one because of this new-found reputation.*

“It was only a joke.”

“He can’t take a bit of stick.”

“No-one else complained when we had a bit of fun with them.”

In other words, seen through the skewed prism of professional sport, it is the victim who is perceived as being the problem in the dressing room – not the person who pissed on their clothes or crushed a lightbulb into the carpet to injure them.

For that reason, some players will choose to leave their dream jobs this summer and go elsewhere, or maybe even give up the dream altogether.

And that, to me, is going too far.

Like all bullying, the only way to deal with it is to drag it out into the light. The reason bullies don’t want anyone to know about their actions is because they know they are wrong.

And rather than the usual football trick of speaking with a forked tongue and condemning bullying whilst tacitly accepting it, why not come out and demand that players, coaches and staff all treat one another with respect?

Or is fair play in the workplace too much to ask for in professional sport?

*To clarify – I have been told by a witness exactly what happened at the club in question, and it is out of deference to the victim that I have chosen not to include their name, the name of the club nor the names of the perpetrators, all of which are known to me.

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