Literature is full of famous quotes that draw parallels with the way we live life. Like in life, every type of sport has rules and regulations that govern the way the game is played. Like in life, sports also has ethics and a moral philosophy, that underpins the behaviour of the participants. Like in life, every sport has its share of players whose credo is to win at all costs – quite often leading to corruption, unfair play, influencing the outcome of a game or tournament, regardless of the cost. As in life, the good and bad, losses and victories, coexist side by side.
One of the greatest, most respected arenas in sport, is Wimbledon – a hallowed ground for all tennis players. It has this famous quote inscribed on its ivy covered wall: “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same…” (From ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling).
The Olympic oath also spells out what is expected of the world class athletes who compete with each other, keeping in mind: “In the name of all the competitors I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, committing ourselves to a sport without doping and without drugs, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honour of our teams.”
As in life, sports is expected to be founded on a bedrock of ethics and morality. Ethics can be defined as: “Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct. The field of ethics, along with aesthetics, concern matters of value, and thus comprise the branch of philosophy called axiology.” – Wiki
The role of ethics in life and sport
We can’t downplay the importance of having a moral compass. The do’s and don’ts. Rules and regulations that govern every aspect of our lives. Laws that make our world safe and secure, fight corruption and the power of money – so, ideally speaking, everyone has the same level playing field. But, does that really happen? Around the world. For the rich and the poor? For the elites and the marginalised? Do people really follow this well known moral arrow: “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” ― Grantland Rice, early 20th century sports writer.
Sad to say, this line in the sand is continually being erased – the way the sea wipes out footprints and sandcastles on the beach. Some famous incidents prove that, to some athletes, winning is more important than playing the game – how the game is played is beside the point!
The most recent example is one that has caused a furore heard all over the globe – Serena William’s behaviour at the US Open 2018 finals. For someone who is considered a hero and an all-time great for having overcome the most difficult odds; who rose to the most dizzying heights of worldwide fame; who is an icon for men and women fighting for equality and fair treatment – Serena has on more than one occasion shown a pettiness of spirit, exhibited the most rancorous behaviour and spewed spite and venom during matches when she has been outplayed by very brave competitors. In this case the brilliant 20 year old Naomi Osaka – who won, despite being pushed onto the side lines, and reduced to tears, by her legendary idol. So, where was Serena’s moral compass? Are her feelings of entitlement so strong that she can’t face losing?
There are many such examples, not only in tennis but in other sports,too. So, if our sports icons don’t play fair, can we expect the men who run the world – in business, politics, government, technology – to do better?
The other guys do it..
This is very often the most commonly trotted out excuse. If anyone is caught running a red light, then it’s ok for everyone else to run the light. If anyone is caught siphoning company funds, that’s ok too. After all, others have done it… Enron, Madoff, Lehman Brothers, Fannie May, Quest Communications, Tyco…the list is seemingly endless. Ever since greed became good in the 80’s – thanks to Gordon Gecko – anything goes. Who needs ethics when you can have money? And lots and lots of it.
In India, industrial barons run off to other countries and continue to live in the lap of luxury, leaving behind bad debts totalling millions of dollars and employees out on the pavement. In the West, heads of companies are bailed out because their companies are too big to fail. This lack of a moral compass, this amorality that pervades everyday life, this feeling of entitlement, is seen in sports as well – Lance Armstrong, Tour Du France winner; Mohammad Azharuddin, Indian national cricket team’s captain; Tonya Harding who injured her main rival to make sure she was out of the competition.
Sports is supposed to play fair – by everyone. The playing field is supposed to be a level one, literally. That’s where the simile comes from! The greatest player in any game is supposed to set an example – on the field and off it. Federer comes to mind. The rules and regulations that are applicable to any sport, can generally be applied to life. The criteria, values and ethics that govern sports are the same as those which govern daily life – whether it’s following traffic rules, not indulging in violent behaviour, not murdering people, not cheating…and so forth.
To conclude, we can define what an ethical or moral way of life should mean: “The moral theory of Aristotle, like that of Plato, focuses on virtue, recommending the virtuous way of life by its relation to happiness. … Aristotle opens the first book of the Nicomachean Ethics by positing some…one supreme good as the aim of human actions, investigations, and crafts.”