Illustration: Jim Pavlidis.

Illustration: Jim Pavlidis.

THIS week, for the second time in his short AFL career, Gold Coast's Joel Wilkinson was subject to racial vilification, this time from a Collingwood supporter.

The reaction was instructive of the times. Wilkinson reported the offence. So did his rival Dale Thomas. So did other Collingwood supporters within earshot.

Mediation ensued, and the offender's membership was cancelled. Wilkinson waived his right to confidentiality, figuring more could be achieved by a public airing.

Thomas was widely praised for his stance. The AFL's campaign against racism in football, now nearly 20 years old, appears to be succeeding.

There is another aspect to this incident, less dwelled upon. It was the last quarter, Collingwood was all over Gold Coast and Thomas was rampant. Wilkinson, isolated on him in the Collingwood goal square, was niggling at him, as backmen do. Thomas, by way of retaliation, repeatedly led Wilkinson behind the goal line and into the maw of the Collingwood cheer squad, knowing that the crowd would deal summarily with Wilkinson in a way that he could not. QED.

Of course, that does not excuse or even mitigate racism. But it does place Thomas' tactic right on the blurry border between gamesmanship and provocation. It was not as if the Magpies needed an edge at the time; they were most of the way to a 97-point thumping. It was just that there was a form of sport in this.

Sportsfolk play before crowds, and up to them. Posing, play-acting, posturing, call it as you will. In this time of dominance of social media, such a gloriously indiscreet instrument, the crowd is everywhere. It means the player is never off stage. Some exploit this, some fall victim.

This week, there were several examples of this dynamic at work. As the June 30 deadline for a new pay deal for Australia's cricketers neared without a resolution in sight, they let it be known - by the usual tactic of not ruling it out - that they might be up for a strike. It might even take out an imminent off-season one-day series in England. Somehow, this was reported not as a promise, but as a threat.

Cricketers are always going on strike, and never are on strike. So are footballers; remember last year's faux industrial sabre-rattling? Sportsmen generally don't strike because unlike other workers, they would rather be at work. If pay and conditions mattered so acutely, a fistful of Australian cricketers really should have struck last month. Twitterly, they aired grievances about food, hygiene and charmlessness of their workplace. ''To make matters worse, I had a six-hour car ride to this shit hole!'' moaned one.

But no downing of tools entered their heads, because this was the IPL, where cricketers stand to reap more in a month than AFL players in a year, mostly - as in this instance - for not playing. A cricketer will only be found on strike when facing up. A footballer will strike only when provoked, or that is what he will tell the tribunal.

Two Olympic-bound swimmers, Nick D'Arcy and Kenrick Monk, posed this week for what they thought was a holiday snap, but once posted on Facebook made them a spectacle before millions. Taken on a rifle range in the US, they were holding pistols and shotguns, gangster and cowboy heinously paired. Immediately, a cry went up for them to be kicked off the Olympic team.

Patently, this was an overreaction. D'Arcy and Monk were cavalier, adding to an immature history in each case, but that is all. Fulminating against them yesterday, London chef de mission Nick Green said their ''foolish'' and ''clearly inappropriate'' post should serve as a warning to all London-bound athletes ''not to put up anything that you would not share with your mother or grandmother''.

It is a reasonable standard, but oddly applied here. It is hard to imagine Mrs D'Arcy or Monk taking any more than the merest of finger-waggling offence. And grandmothers are famously and blessedly indulgent.

The ever-flitting spotlight fell briefly on one other poseur this week. For the second time in two weeks, the match review panel asked itself whether Essendon's Leroy Jetta could be accused of staging, this time when reeling away melodramatically from a tackle. It decided that he was only three-quarters guilty.

But this case is likely to reverberate. First, it means Jetta now has a soiled reputation. Second, it hints perhaps at a growing phenomenon.

AFL always has looked down on simulation as somehow unmanly and un-Australian. Followers staked the high moral ground, but against a disinterested invader; soccer lovers always accepted the diving and writhing as part of the theatre. Now there appears to be a colliding of the minds.

When English batsmen ''walked'', it was not so much about nobility as respect for fellow professionals, who stood to be cheated not just of a wicket, but a livelihood. Seemingly, it is a lost principle. Now ''all the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players'', and innocence is not so important as the ability to act it on cue.