Integrity in Sport: Is honesty the best policy?
I watched with interest the various English Football Association (FA) cup games that took place over the weekend. In particular the Mansfield Town FC Vs Liverpool FC game. For those of you who might not be aware of the result, Liverpool won the game 2-1. The second (and as it turns out decisive) Liverpool goal though was mired in controversy. The infamous Liverpool Striker Luis Suarez clearly handled the ball (which is against the rules) on route to scoring the ultimately decisive goal. If you are being black and white about it then this was an act of cheating underpinned by dishonesty. But is Suarez solely to blame for his course of action?
A number of commentators and media reporters have suggested that Suarez should have ‘come clean’ and admitted that he handled the ball, but is this realistic? Is a player going to own up to gaining an unfair advantage when the stakes are so high? There are already many other examples where this has not happened in the Premier League this season, with players instead choosing the ‘dishonest’ option.
This then got me thinking is this ‘dishonesty’ an issue that football as a sport has to deal on its own with or is it wider spread? Are honesty and fair play really core values in professional sport or do many sports and sports performers just pay lip service to them? Also, while this game of football was high profile and seem by millions across the world were Suarez’s actions out of step with our society in the UK? Would many members of the public own up to having had an unfair advantage if it resulted in a positive and desired outcome, and they were not caught?
Often the actions of the individual player should not be considered in Isolation. Often in team sports the player’s own morals and beliefs become fused with those of the club, and often the sport, all of which mirror aspects of our wider society. It is often said that football teams resemble their manager, so maybe the manager should take some of the blame.
Maybe the actions of Suarez reflect an increasing ‘win at all costs’ mentality that is creeping into sport in the UK. The Olympic games were a great beacon of sportsmanship but did not involve the long-term scrutiny and financial rewards of a sport such as football. When the stakes are so high and everyone is craving success why would you admit to breaking the rules? The answer is hopefully because that is how you have group up and been taught to behave, but unfortunately for many young sports performers they are not getting this moral education.
Do we seek to actively develop good honest and morally strong sports performers? Or is there an over emphasis on that is most effective rather than what is right?
It might be time to start looking to build from the bottom up rather than asking the sports performers at the top to lead by example.