Andrew Gourdie: Should sport set your moral compass?

OPINION: Canterbury Cricket's decision to contract Ben Stokes should really come as no surprise. 

If the last year has taught me anything, it's that we should stop expecting sport to set our moral compass. Sport's not really that interested in setting yours, and in most cases it's stopped trying. Sport is business, and the only thing that matters is winning and making money.

I'll give you two contrasting examples.

Let's take Aaron Smith. He embarrassed himself and the All Blacks when he did what he did in a bathroom at Christchurch Airport. New Zealand Rugby could have taken a hard line, but they didn't. He was briefly cast aside, the brand absorbed the PR hit, he was rehabilitated back into the environment, and back to his best form. Even when it was revealed he had lied to his employer, there was nothing to see here. Aaron Smith makes the All Blacks better, and that's what matters.

Compare that to what happened with Jesse Bromwich and Kevin Proctor after the Kiwis' ANZAC Test defeat in Canberra. They embarrassed themselves and disrespected the Kiwis when they were caught buying cocaine. New Zealand Rugby League were expected to take a hard line, and they did. Bromwich and Proctor weren't considered for selection for the Rugby League World Cup. 

Jesse Bromwich and Kevin Proctor weren't considered for selection for the Rugby League World Cup.
Jesse Bromwich and Kevin Proctor weren't considered for selection for the Rugby League World Cup. Photo credit: Photosport

It was the right decision from a moral standpoint, but in hindsight it was the loose thread that unravelled the Kiwis' World Cup campaign. Had the NZRL chosen to handle their own crisis in the way NZR handled the Smith saga, we could be talking about another Kiwis World Cup win instead of a review into their worst-ever tournament.

So who got it right? Any fan of New Zealand sport will say without question that David Kidwell and NZRL got it wrong, and Steve Hansen and the All Blacks got it right. Some will disagree, but the reality is those people are in the minority.

So to the situation with Stokes. He's waiting to learn whether he'll face charges, and in the meantime he's innocent until proven guilty. We've all seen the CCTV footage of his Bristol nightclub incident and had the opportunity to make up our own minds on this one, and it would certainly appear CanterburyCricket already has.

From Canterbury Cricket's point of view, every day that Stokes remains innocent is an opportunity for him to be playing cricket, winning games and making money. They'll be hoping he remains in legal limbo for as long as possible. Once a decision's made, they'll lose him to either the authorities or the Ashes. If no charges are laid, he will still face a hearing with the England Cricket Board. But it's clear that part of this move is to ensure Stokes is ready should he become available to help England's cause in the most important series on the ECB calendar. 

Andrew Gourdie: Should sport set your moral compass?

While our sporting organisations are moving in the right direction when it comes to diversity and equality, it's clear that a win at all costs mentality is firmly entrenched in the professional era. Canterbury Cricket CEO Jez Curwin said "we fully understand and appreciate that there will be some people that do not agree with the decision" to contract Stokes. Just don't expect them to care. This is a sporting and financial decision, not a moral one.

One final thought: when we have the President of the United States tweeting hate and vitriol on a daily basis, perhaps we should be questioning why we expect sporting organisations to do the work that global leaders are not.

Andrew Gourdie is a Newshub sports reporter/presenter and host of RadioLIVE's Sunday Sport from 2pm.