By Categories: Editorials, Ethics

Sport and Ethics

Background :- Corruption, Illegal betting,vested interest have drawn not only Indian sports but sports across worlds over to revisit the spirit of sports in our recent times. Lodha panel latest report vindicates the fact that – overtime sports has lost ground to “Winning” and thus sports ethics has been sidelined . In light of these events it is necessary to understand what has gone wrong with sports . Is sports is all about winning ? What do we want sports after all. With this questions in mind , lets look and analyze the spirit of sports and its current state of dismal affairs.

It is commonly accepted that through sport one learns to persevere, to sacrifice, and to be self-disciplined, to work hard, to follow orders, to be a leader, and to work with others.

Ethics And Moral Behaviour In Sport, Corbett, 1999


Is it all about winning ?

Why do we say “it’s not the winning but the taking part that counts”?

It’s a phrase echoed by the founder of the Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who said “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.”

Most people seem to agree that trying and failing is more admirable than not trying at all.

In practice, though, most people seem only to be interested in the medallists.

There are other goals to strive for apart from a medal. De Coubertin himself coined the motto “Citius, altius, fortius” – “swifter, higher, stronger” – for his Games. It is an ambiguous phrase, and one that could be taken to include striving to beat one’s personal best as well as going for gold.

Competition is not unethical. It is reasonable that winners be rewarded, even if their victories have an element of chance (and all victories have); this is the essence of a game, and games are fundamental to humanity.

Celebrating achievement is not in itself unethical – but it can drive some competitors to unethical behaviour.

What is Sports:-

Given that many enthusiasts enjoy sport for aesthetic reasons in part, it is surprising that the concept of sport has received relatively little attention from philosophers.

Two main problems leap to our attention. First, just how close is the aesthetic interest we take in sport to our interest in the arts? One is a human activity; the other a human creation. In that respect they both differ from the aesthetic appeal of natural sights and scenes. Admittedly, in most sports the principal object is winning rather than aesthetic quality, though in some sports, like ice-skating, the manner is integral to the results – marks are awarded for what is quaintly described as ‘artistic merit’.

The second problem concerns its definition. How do we define a sport? It may be a solitary activity; it may not have a winner or loser; one proposal is that it requires the arbitrary selection or creation of difficulties which it is our aim to overcome.

Symbolism of Sports:-

The Sportsworld is a lived world, like those of literature and the theater, that is highly charged with human meaning. As a dramatic and symbolic world the Sports world has its own plots, scenes, characters, and settings.

The game itself is the ritual hub of the sports universe; the team provides social structure; sports language gives the world cohesion; fans play the game vicariously through the athletes. Underneath and penetrating all the dramatic appeals is the powerful symbolism of play. The success of the Sports world rests on its ability to build its symbolic structure on the memory of play, on the illusion of play, and, finally, on the fantasy of play.

Now that we know –  sports is fundamental to humanity , then what is sportsmanship?


An athlete cannot bring true courage to his fights unless he has sometimes been beaten black and blue. The fighter who has seen his own blood, whose teeth have been rattled by a blow from his opponent, who has been thrown to the ground and felt the whole weight of his rival’s body on him, who has not lost his spirit even when hurled about the ring, who, every time he has been knocked down, has got to his feet again more pugnacious than ever, this is the man who faces his next fight with confidence that is sportsmanship.

The rules beyond the field:-

There are rules in the field,but is there any rules beyond the field ?

There are many meanings in ‘how one plays the game’. Certainly it means playing by the rules of the game. But playing the game properly, with justice and integrity, also requires playing by rules beyond the game. It  must conform to community ideas or ideals of ‘sportsmanship’. It is important in all societies to be the good sport, to be seen as acting fairly and accepting whatever life throws our way.

Is sports is all about playing or is it playing fair :-

‘Fair play’ is usually understood to mean using only tactics that are in accord with the spirit of the sport.

Most sports come with their own rules, conventions and opportunities for cheating :-

For example :-


  • diving: falling over and pretending to have been fouled, to win your team a penalty
  • faking, also called simulation: suggesting you’ve been punched, kicked or elbowed in order to get an opponent in trouble with the referee, or exaggerating a mild injury to make it seem more severe

Cricketsledging: distracting opponents by winding them up verbally

Hence , fair play becomes important.

Other issues that malign sports:-

  • Drugs for performance enhancement
  • Body Modification (peptide hormones,stimulants etc)
  • Technicality (cheating on the ground of technicality i.e. when a sportsman uses a technical aspect to cheat and enhance performance and does not adhere to ‘level playing field’)

What need to be done :-

The central part of any game is fair play . Fair play is  much more than playing with in the rules. It incorporates the concepts of friendship, respect for others and always playing within the right spirit. Fair play is defined as a way of thinking, not just a way of behaving.

It incorporates issues concerned with the elimination of cheating, gamesmanship, doping, violence (both physical and verbal), the sexual harassment and abuse of children, young people and women, exploitation, unequal opportunities, excessive commercialization and corruption.

Fair play is a positive concept. Sport is a social and cultural activity which, practiced fairly, enriches society and the friendship between nations. Sport is also recognized as an individual activity which, played fairly, offers the opportunity for self-knowledge, self-expression and fulfillment; personal achievement, skill acquisition and demonstration of ability; social interaction, enjoyment, good health and well-being.

Sport promotes involvement and responsibility in society with its wide range of clubs and leaders working voluntarily. In addition, responsible involvement in some activities can help to promote sensitivity to the environment.

In setting a proper context of fair play :-

Government –

Encourage the adoption of high ethical standards in all aspects of society within which sport operates.

Stimulate and support those organizations and individuals who have demonstrated sound ethical principles in their work with sport.

Encourage the education profession to include the promotion of sport and fair play as a central part of the physical education curriculum.

Support initiatives aimed at promoting fair play in sport, particularly amongst the young, and encouraging institutions to place fair play as a central priority in their work.

Sports and Sports related organizations

Publish clear guidelines on what is considered to be ethical or unethical behaviour and ensure that, at all levels of participation and involvement, consistent and appropriate incentives and/or sanctions are applied.

Ensure that all decisions are made in accordance with a Code of Ethics for their sport.

Raise the awareness of fair play within their sphere of influence through the use of campaigns, awards, educational material and training opportunities. They must also monitor and evaluate the impact of such initiatives.

Establish systems which reward fair play and personal levels of achievement in addition to competitive success.

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