Celebrations are a part of sport

We cannot have too many rules against celebration in sport. If you feel you should celebrate, then do; if not, don’t. But it cannot be a test of morality.

Sport is a celebration. But celebration is not always sporting, if one goes by the fuss over the US women’s football team celebrating each time they scored against Thailand (13-0) in the World Cup. But what is sport without emotion, even if some of the “spontaneity” is practised before hand?

That celebration should depend on the state of the match might come as a surprise to those used to television bringing home the joys of scoring a goal, taking a wicket or winning the final point at Wimbledon. Television encourages celebration because it connects with the viewer.

When India beat the US 24-1 in hockey at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, it is unlikely that Dhyan Chand (eight goals) and his brother Roop Singh (10) jumped into each other’s arms two dozen times. After England off-spinner Jim Laker took all 10 wickets in an innings against Australia, he merely collected his sweater from the umpire, and shook a couple of hands en route to the pavilion. That was then. Today non-celebration is seen as an insult to the viewer!

There are two schools of thought on celebrating while handing out a thrashing. Those who support the US team’s actions and do not see in it American arrogance believe that “athletes should always play to their skill level,” as Billie Jean King pointed out. To take the foot off the pedal or stop scoring goals or celebrating would be patronising. Progress in a tournament is often decided by goal difference, and to pump in as many goals as possible is what a team should set out to do. As for celebration, that is a by-product, and there are sensible rules in place to ensure it doesn’t get out of hand.

The other school holds that celebrating beyond a point is both unnecessary and insulting to the opponents. Most sports are conscious of respecting the opponent, and have it written into their rules.

When Germany beat Brazil 7-1 at the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, the celebrations became muted with every goal. German coach Joachim Loew said his team felt “no euphoria” and while they were happy, they “didn’t celebrate”. The Germans cut out all theatrics and except for a raising of the arms there were no displays as the score mounted. After the game, Mats Hummels said his team had decided they were not out to humiliate Brazil, adding, “You have to show your opponent respect…we played our game for 90 minutes.” That’s probably how today’s professional sees it.

No one objected when America’s Brandi Chastain took off her shirt and celebrated in her bra and shorts after scoring the winning penalty in the 1999 World Cup.

Sports Illustrated and Newsweek appreciated that gesture so much that they put the image on their covers.

Celebrations are a part of sport. You cannot have too many rules against them. If you feel you should celebrate, then do; if not, don’t. But it cannot be a test of morality.