Booing in Sport

I’m hoping I’m taking on an issue that should be in agreement with many, but clearly, the behaviour at some sporting events suggests this isn’t as universally agreed as I’d hope. Booing in sport.

It’s hardly sporting to boo an opponent. This weekend I was at the Nitto ATP Tennis Finals at the O2 and was in the crowd for when Roger Federer was beaten, and the winner booed. I’d like to point out I wasn’t one of the crowd booing, instead cheering as I felt nothing but sympathy for Alex.

The crowd, as always, was filled with Roger fans. His career has spanned so long he is bound to pick up many fans along the way so there was a clear noise difference between points Roger won and didn’t. This in itself made it harder for Alexander Zverev (Sascha) and probably the reason I was rooting for him to win. During a rally in the second set tie-break, Sascha randomly stopped playing. I don’t think anyone in the crowd really knew what was going on – it was clear Roger didn’t even as he went over to the Umpire to seek some clarity on the situation. He understood and the point was replayed. Just a handful of points later, Roger was defeated. Now is probably a good time to say Roger had his serve broken in the first set and, if I’m honest, was outplayed. This probably wasn’t going to be a win for Roger regardless of the ball kid incident. Yet the crowd still booed Sascha. Others in the arena tried to cheer to out volume those who weren’t happy was too great. But this poses a bigger question, when is booing justified?

In some games, the ref can be the brunt of negative crowd attention – some calls are clearly questionable and that can lead to severe angst from the crowd. Other times a player’s off-pitch activity can impact their reception on playing and yet, here, the kid who followed the rules was booed. It isn’t sporting behaviour to boo when things aren’t going your way. But as a crowd what else can you do to show your reaction to an event? Silence is rare in sport and hardly something to convey your position, but isn’t this fairer on the players?

If there aren’t any pictures, is it even real?

Sacha started his post-match interview with an apology, he could hardly celebrate his victory due to the atmosphere in the room. He isn’t the first person to have this problem. When Serena lost the 2018 US Open Naomi Osaka was in tears as she was handed the trophy as the ground was behind Serena and her sexism claims. Just two cases from this year, of a sport which is claimed to me more “gentlemanly”.

If you’ve gone to an event to watch a match, why can’t we enjoy the sport in front of us and not get the players down? The beauty of sport is its unpredictability – no two games are ever the same – why not enjoy that? I’m sure a different set tie-break won’t see the ball kid drop the ball but that doesn’t mean the result would be different. Sport should be about celebrating the achievements of those taking part, not ripping others down to the lower level. Sascha is 21 and Roger 37, one is clearly at the start of his career, the other recognised as the greatest of all time. Even the greats get beaten. It wasn’t even Roger’s first defeat of the week. Yet the crowd took the sense of achievement away from Sascha. Sport is trying to shine a light on mental health in sport, but does it need to look to the crowd for the impact on the players too?

Sport is claimed to be a unifer – something regardless of time we can all get behind. All I ask is sport unifies, once again, to consider when, if ever, booing can be justified?


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