Perhaps it is a product of age but I hope not.
The product … a commitment to the integrity of sport through an absolute acceptance of the rules and laws of games.
Last week I wrote about the play spirit that connects us in games and sport. I think it is an immensely powerful connection.
Reading USADA’s report on the Lance Armstrong investigation was an overwhelming reminder that rules do not bring about conformity but a different kind of non-conformity. I wondered naively why any athlete would seek to dope if our contract in sport is with the essence of playfulness.
I do struggle with arguments that emphasise that “there is a lot at stake” to rationalise any form of cheating. I am nervous that such arguments transform our threshold of repugnance (Elias) and increase our selective indignation (Lunn).
I did like Matt Hickey’s take on these issues in a Drum post. He observes “Winning isn’t everything, but the existing incentive structure for athletes certainly places a large emphasis on it – and it comes with increasingly large costs”.
My hope is that we can address the incentive structure in all sport, starting with the nation state. In my naivety I do hope we have gone beyond equating winning in international competition as an index of status. I wonder if we might develop an alternative indicator … evidence of athletes, coaches and scientists working to support acceptance of the laws and rules of games. What a remarkable sport system we would have without a Prisoner’s Dilemma.
Photo Credit
Rainbow Valley


  1. Keith
    I believe that it is more than the incentive structure that needs to be examined. The way the culture of the sport (or segment of society more generally) is constructed is of importance too. Not all sports react the same way. Cycling is plagued by doping, cricket by match-fixing, football (soccer) by diving but other sports like golf seem to be relatively free of in-sport scandal (while the ethics of Woods’ personal behaviour is questioned, the ethics of his golfing behaviour is not).
    As academics, we should be striving to understand the complexity of forces that contribute to unethical and illegal behaviour, and also to ethical behaviour. We should not attribute it to simplistic causes such as the monetary incentives; there is more to it that just money.
    I suspect that the key to greater understanding is to examine the segment of society in which the unethical or illegal behaviour occurs rather than focusing solely on the individual.

    • Andrew
      Thank you for your detailed comment. I apologise if I gave the impression that I was offering a monocausal explanation. I took incentive to be multi-faceted issue and accept without equivocation the segmentation you identify.
      I am fascinated by hegemonic cultures and their transformation into sub-cultural expression.
      I agree there is more to it than money and need to look carefully at peer groups.
      Thanks for finding this post and for the opportunity to clarify my thoughts.
      Best wishes

  2. But doesn’t the ‘difficulties’ of playing the game by the rules, reflect wider societial issues?
    Clearly petty theft has been with us since the beginning or organised society, what we used to call nicking a few pens from the office stationery cupboard is now more generally referred to as ‘White Collar’ crime. Which seems to suggest that ‘White Collar crime’ is a better crime that that committed by ‘Blue Collar’ workers. I was struck by this piece in the Huffington Post:
    which in turn lead me to this more general obervation in the Telegraph:
    I know several teachers who think nothing of breaking the rules of the game (in relation to age banding and affiliation) by brininging in ‘ringers’ to win games. But as the Telelgraph header observes they wouldn’t dream of stealing from a high street shop. For them there is no issue of renumeration so it must come down to the need (as a coach/teacher) to be seen as part of a successful team. For atheletes such as Lance Armstrong it must have something to do with the monetary rewards.
    To try and resolve these things at a NGB level alone will simply bring in more regulations/procedures, which some coach or athelete somewhere will find a way to circumvent, when cleary a large percentage of that nation’s population think nothing of walking out with a small momento of their visit.

    • Excellent points, Gordon.
      I am very naive in thinking the world could be different. I am thinking of a common wealth of good.
      I do think this is an ethical issue and I apologise if I have given the impression it is a financial transaction issue.
      Thanks for the links.

  3. It is most certainly an ethical issue; the teachers and coaches I had in mind receive no direct finacial gain. However their school or club gains perhaps gains kudos as a result; but that too can be a double edged sword because ‘they’ can easily gain a negative reputation.
    For the likes of Lance Armstrong there must be some additional pressure that allows them to move beyond a moral standpoint to circumvent ‘the rules’ to enter into some ‘faustian pact’. I guess you and I have the advantage of some certanity of employment and thus pension. The extent to which a poor struggling sportsman sees a source of prize-money and or sponsorship which would secure for them a financial future?
    Clearly sportsmen and (to a much lesser extent) women are very little different from the average man in the street, why else woud bankers behave as they do? (

    • Yes!
      I think Arnold Lunn’s discussion of selective indignation has been very important to me. I read his discussion of the 1936 Olympic Games back in the 1970s.
      I really appreciate your comments, Gordon. Thank you. You send me off on new trains of thought.


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