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The importance of Sportsmanship in modern sport


Posted by Neil B under Football (Soccer), Tennis, Cricket, Cycling, Rugby Union on 2 February 2013 at 12:00 AM

Have you ever played on despite knowing the ball went out? Ever blocked an opponent off the ball? Attempted to put off an opponent by saying something to them? Argued with a referee? Then you are part of the sportsmanship debate. 

Sportsmanship revolves around the moral and ethical aspects of your participation in sport, and is a much debated topic in recent times. Sportsmanship

It incorporates aspects of: 

  • -Fair Play
  • -Respecting the Rules
  • -Respecting Opponents and Officials
  • -Integrity
  • -Graciousness in Defeat and Victory

Check out this quick guide to good sportsmanship.

While the majority of sportspeople strive to play their respective sports in a sporting manner, there are many who attempt to exploit ambiguities in the rules and utilise any advantages they can gain. They will argue that they are still performing within the rules, and so are not doing anything wrong. However, whether or not they are within the rules, is different from displaying good sportsmanship and playing within the spirit of the game.

There have been many examples of questionable sportsmanship recently within professional sports.

Even within the last couple of weeks, we have seen examples of major sportspeople displaying questionable sportsmanlike conduct. In her Australian Open Semi-Final match against young American tennis star Sloane Stevens, Victoria Azarenka called a medical timeout when Stevens was serving to stay in the match at 5-4 down in the second set.  Azarenka proceeded to spend 10 minutes off court getting treatment. When she returned, Stevens momentum had gone and she lost the match 6-2 6-4. 

Azarenka v Stephens

While on the surface it would appear that Azarenka took a legitimate medical time-out, her comments after the match seemed to suggest she had taken the medical timeout to compose herself:

"Well, I almost did the choke of the year. At 5-3, having so many chances I couldn't close it out. I just felt a little bit overwhelmed. I realized I'm one step away from the final and nerves got into me for sure"  

These quotes call into question the ethics of her timeout. While it was technically within the rules, if she did take it purely to compose herself then this displays very poor sportsmanship and would be a clear example of exploiting the rules for your own benefit. However, it is important to note that she has since argued that she was receiving treatment for a trapped rib. 

Last Wednesday we saw an incident in the Chelsea v Swansea Carling Cup Semi-Final that has called the sportsmanship of football into serious question. There were ten minutes remaining, with Chelsea needing to score twice to take the game to extra time. It was at this point that a 17 year old Swansea ball boy took matters into his own hands. He proceeded to lie on top of the ball, preventing Eden Hazard from retrieving the ball quickly and speeding up play. While this act in itself was remarkable, Hazards response was even more remarkable. He proceeded to kick the ball out from underneath the ball boy, connecting cleanly with the ball which shot out from under the ball boy. While in normal circumstances this incident would be seen as stupid, the reaction of the ball boy escalated its’ seriousness. He grimaced, rolled around and screamed as if Hazard had kicked him in the ribs. The fact that this ball boy had earlier that day tweeted that he planned to waste time and slow the game down only added to the fire and called his morals even more into question.

Hazard and Swansea Ball Boy

It is a perfect example of poor sportsmanship from both parties involved. The ball boy displayed a complete disregard for the spirit of the game, while Hazard should have shown better restraint and shown a better understanding of his position as a global role model.

The ball boys actions of rolling around on the floor and feigning injury in order to get a player in trouble highlight a wider issue within football. It appears commonplace for players to roll around on the floor after a tackle, take a quick look up at the ref to see if he has given the foul, and then continue writhing in pain. Recent El Classico games, between Barcelona and Real Madrid; arguably the biggest game in World Football, have been tainted by play acting, diving and bad sportsmanship. Should such amazing spectacles be being ruined by the gamesmanship of the players themselves?

Even in sports such as cricket, which has an excellent reputation for sportsmanship, sledging is commonplace. This is when the nearest fielders to the batsman make comments to psyche them out. Does this display bad sportsmanship or is it just part of the game? 

While there are many examples of bad sportsmanship, which seem to dominate column inches and discussions, it is important to also highlight some examples of good sportsmanship.

During the 2005 Ashes series, where England won back the famous Urn for the first time since 1987, Andrew Flintoff, England's talismanic all-rounder and fiercest competitor, displayed one of the most memorable moments of sportsmanship in recent times. Australia, closing in on a memorable and damaging win in the second Test, were bowled out just two runs short of victory. Upon winning, the entire England team went crazy, celebrating madly with each other, except from Flintoff.  Flintoff walked straight over to Brett Lee, who was crouched down, head in hands in despair, and shook his hand, congratulated him on the epic fight he had put up and consoled him; A remarkable display of sportsmanship and being gracious in victory. (View the Video Below – Skip to 1.00 mins)  

In 2000, Paulo Di Canio of West Ham passed up the opportunity to score a goal by catching the ball, because the Everton goalkeeper Paul Gerrard was on the floor injured. He was later commended by Fifa for his actions, receiving the Fifa Fair Play Award, for a “Special act of good sportsmanship”. (View the Video Below).

It appears we have reached a place in modern sport where examples of good sportsmanship are something to be celebrated and highlighted, rather than being accepted as commonplace or indeed expected. The fact that Tour De France winner and Olympic Gold Medal cyclist, Bradley Wiggins, has gained the nickname ‘Le Gentlemen’, after he slowed down the racers in the Tour De France after a number of his key rivals for the yellow jersey had experienced punctures due to spectators sabotaging the race by throwing pins onto the course emphasises this perfectly. While he could have pressed home his advantage and extended his lead over one of his key rivals, he chose to slow the race down to allow those affected to regain contact with his group. After the race Wiggins commented,

“I thought it was the honourable thing to do, nobody should ever profit by somebody’s misfortune like that.”

Bradley Wiggins

The fact that he has been celebrated for his actions and branded ‘Le Gentleman Wiggins’, emphasises the fact that good sportsmanship is now not commonplace within sport. It should be a given that any competitor would carry out the same actions as Wiggins in this situation. Sadly this is just not the case in the current climate. It should be that examples of bad sportsmanship are the exceptions to the rule, not the norm. 

Does Sportsmanship matter though?

There will always be arguments over whether bending the rules to win is acceptable in sport and whether perfect sportsmanship is an achievable goal in modern sport. It is also clear that there are different levels of sportsmanship. While Sledging in cricket may be accepted as a part of modern day cricket, the growth of diving and play acting in football should not be accepted as part of the game. Good sportsmanship is something that should be strived for at all times. However, given the monetary gains available for victory, it is increasingly being side-lined in the quest for victory in professional sport. In a day and age when sports have such a global reach and influence over people’s behaviour, a renewed focus on improving the values of sportsmanship within both professional and amateur sports is crucial.

What are your views on Sportsmanship? Should a win at any costs attitude be accepted or should we be aiming for perfect sportsmanlike conduct?

  • Encourage

    encouraged this.



    Surely sport simply reflects our social cultures, probably why we have such a hard time dealing with the darker aspects of it? Like most things we would like it to reflect the best our ourselves, but really it is neither good or bad unless we decide it is so.

    Nick B and Jane H encouraged this.


    Sportsmanship is an important component of playing sport, and should be instilled in our young athletes at an early age. Just as physical skills are developed, so should good sportsmanship. We need to model correct and appropriate behaviors and value good sportsmanship, so that the younger generation learn.

    Nick B and Laura K encouraged this.


    I was under the impression that the incident between the Belgian, Hazard and the Swansea ball boy was the culmination of a dispute over which country should be used as the unit of international geographical measurement - but I might be wrong.

    Jane H encouraged this.


    I agree that sportsmanship is an important aspect of the activity, more so when we are talking about children learning life lessons, but as adults we have sort of messed that up by adding money and fame to the equation!? Sportsmanship should be an extension of a decent level of human respect for others, when we talk about Andrew Flintoff comforting Brett Lee it makes me wonder if people would do the same in the street if they saw someone in distress?

    Jane H and Nick B encouraged this.


    @bradn, unfortunately, I think many people are too wary to step in for a number of reasons: perceived threat to themselves, possible opportunity for liability if something goes awry, or even just too busy to intervene!

    Nick B encouraged this.


    perhaps you are right Jane, but then should we be pointing the finger at sports people who we perceive as being unsporting? plus there is a fair amount of subjectivity to the whole topic, one persons sportsmanlike act may in fact be far from it lol Carl Lewis used to shake the hands of all his opponents in a race, on the surface it seems very respectful, but he was first to admit it was an attempt to psyche them out! lol

    Jane H and Nick B encouraged this.


    Ha, yeah I know, I was getting off the topic, applying to life in general! So Lewis shook hands before the race to intimidate them perhaps?

    Nick B encouraged this.


    he always wanted to look them in the eye and try to show them who was more in control, worked a lot of the time and with some it just fired them up more lol I just think that these topics are more complex than we often want to see, I agree that this discussion is one of society and culture in general, really we should be wondering why we do not have a culture of fair play being brought from our society to our sports, not the other way around!

    Nick B and Jane H encouraged this.


    To my mind bad sportsmanship is almost like saying I have to bend the rules to beat you because I'm not good enough to do beat you without doing it.

    Alan C and Nick B encouraged this.


    Carl Lewis's act of shaking hands with his opponents may not have been done for wholly sporting reasons but it is not unsporting - and that is the difference. Neil B had identified the physiological battle as well as the physical battle that is present in sport during an earlier discussion and Lewis's actions were simply that and well within the acceptable level of sporting behaviour.


    We should never excuse poor sportsmanship on the grounds that it simply reflects our society. In the same way as we should never make excuses for a lack of moral fibre, crime, or a lack of common decency in society in general


    I agree with point two Nick, and I suppose that is what I have been trying to say, a perceived lack of sportsmanlike behaviour on in sports isnt simply about sports, we all take a part in its creation through our actions in society. So where do we draw the line with the "psychological" aspect of competition?


    The difference between the behaviour of professional sports people and the rest of society is that on the whole they are role models. Their actions on the field of play can viewed by millions. They can be replayed, scrutinised, commented upon and copied by their fans. Every professional sports person has to accept the responsibility that comes with job, in the same way as any one in the public eye must accept the role. Sport is attritional, it needs to be competitive but it doesn't need to be 'win at all cost'. It is easy to identify when the someone is trying to gain a psychological advantage through gamesmanship rather than more 'acceptable' means . Unfortunately I need to keep these post briefs, as I post them on my phone and loose signal regularly. More later.


    Great comment Nick (even if you have to keep them brief) however I am not sure I agree, in some ways I would like to, I do think these people should be role models, but I believe we messed that up when it became a job for them, as soon as we introduced money the lay of the land changed dramatically and that win at all cost attitude exploded (though I think it is always there, we humans tend to have big egos lol)! So I think they should be under the same scrutiny we all are, we should all be aware of our actions and comments as we never know who may hear them or see them! I think we are semi in agreement and I am enjoying the discussion, it would be good if some more waded into the debate so we can get a good spread of ideas and opinions!


    A point i've been weighing up in my mind and struggling to come to a conclusion is, regarding the type of gamesmanship whereby you wind an opponent up, or intimidate an opponent in order to make him nervous. While clearly in general everyday life this type of behavior isn't acceptable, is it acceptable in a sporting context. As Nick B pointed out, i've previously posted about this. Surely your mental strength, resolve and restraint are just as much an attribute contributing to your success as physical attributes like strength, speed and agility. If you can gain an advantage over an opponent in this manner then is this any different to you just being physically faster than him? I guess its all a matter levels, and it depends what it is you do or say in an attempt to gain a mental advantage, but i often think mental strength and ability to control your temper etc are an often overlooked attribute for success in sport!

    Adrian K encouraged this.


    I agree that mental strength is as important as physical strength in sport. The ability to psyche-out your opponent is, as acceptable as the ability to be physically stronger. However there is a line that once crossed extends the action into non sportsmanlike behaviour. There is no grey area – we are all intelligent enough to know the basic difference between right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. If we take Boxing as a very simple example. At the weigh-in two boxers will stand toe-to-toe eye balling one another to gain the psychological advantage. Insulting your opponent’s mother and threatening to tear your opponents head off (even in an combat sport) in an attempt to intimidate him is unacceptable. I had posted the below video in the One World Tribe and although it specifically relates to football supporters behaviour, the attitude highlighted does also occur on the pitch. It’s an extreme example I know, but it does demonstrate the point.


    Ok Brad – I hear what you are saying but I don’t think money is the sole reason for the ills in sport. After a point (but maybe when one has amassed enough cash) good sportsmen are no longer motivated by money. Rory McIllroy’s recent comments are testament to that, David Beckham’s recent charitable gesture is another. The need for sporting excellence takes over. Maybe as sportsmen mature they recognise the need to leave an endearing legacy of the consummate professional rather than the nasty taste of a vulgar cheating hypocrite


    I agree that money is certainly not the sole aspect involved, but it has greatly increased a sense that “if I can get away with it then its OK” from sports people! I also think we are on a sticky wicket if we start looking at things like David Beckhams new charitable contract, I am sure there is an element of well meaning to his actions, and I also think that there is a high degree of self promotion or marketing involved from him and PSG! Can you morph into a consummate professional from being a cheating hypocrite? Of course we have seen many go in the other direction! Lol I think my comments were more away from just being concerned about sports people and wondering why feel this intense need to place them on pedestals for standards that we often do not meet ourselves!? On the point of psychological competition, could we then not say that being able to go to the lowest point in order to win is in fact a strength if it works!? Lol somewhat playing devils advocate…


    As I said previously, with publicity comes responsibility - professional sports people are in the public eye, their actions are scrutinised and they are role models to a wider audience, like it or not. The rules change with the job. When you get married, the rules change, when you have children, the rules change. We conduct our lives to a different set of standards as our responsibilities change and I think most people can accept that. So if you are prepared to accept great riches by displaying your talents to an audience, you must accept that in return your audience feel they have a relationship with you and therefore you have a responsibility to them to behave in an appropriate manner the same way as you would to your children. I agree with your point about money in sport - it contributes to a disconnect between some professional athletes and the rest of us For example it allows overpaid footballers, in particular, to behave in a way that they think is normal and we think is abhorrent. This is evident from the way ex footballer pundits will defend the actions of their fellow pros. The case that Neil highlighted is typical. I have watched a video of the event and the ball boys actions, although, in my view, a reaction to Hazard's intervention, did nothing worse than every footballer does every day of the week. Yet Hazard's action were defended by footballers on twitter with some even calling for ball boys to be abolished. The unfortunate consequence of this disconnect is that all right minded people become cynical of footballers actions So when they make philanthropic gesture our immediate reaction is one of cynicism. I must confess my first reaction was 'shit £3 mill for a knighthood' . But I have corrected myself and respect the gesture as a generous caring magnanimous act of charity. When Gary Kelly gave up his testimonial money to a cancer charity in Ireland and Neil Quinn made a similar gesture to charities in Sunderland and Ireland we all accepted it in the spirit it was intended - what has changed since then, other than a widening gulf between the respective mentality of footballers and the general public? I listen to the apologists disguised as ex-footballer pundits on TV analyse penalty claims in games and justify the actions of a player throwing himself to the ground after the minimal amount of contact. Their view is that no matter how minuscule the contact by a defending player, the attacking player has the right to drop to the ground to win a penalty. If his opponent is booked or sent off for the 'foul' then so be it. Winning is what counts, honesty and integrity are inconsequential to the events. The referee is criticised for making a mistake by; the pundits, opposition managers and the press and the average football fan accepts it, even though in our normal day to day lives most of us would never accept anything quite so ridiculously cynical. Now I am getting a bit 'off message' here as my daughter would say, so back to the point re mental strength. Which of these takes more mental strength and strength of character Brad - to lower yourself to insulting your opponent and hope he gets so wound up you have an advantage or to trust your own ability to win and if not, be prepared to accept defeat graciously because you have been beaten by a better player?


    What differentiates what the ball boy did and what footballers do in a lot of games by rolling round and wasting time etc, is that for the most part i do not believe it is pre-meditated from the is done on instinct (not that that makes it much better), whereas the ball-boy's actions were pre-meditated as earlier that day he had tweeted that he was making his last appearance as a ball boy so was going to waste as much time as he could. It was pre-meditated and calculated. Why a 17 year old was ball-boying the game in the first place is beyond me. It was this premeditated nature of the ball boys actions that I think have made pundits and ex pro's alike condemn his actions so strongly.....after all his sole job was the return the ball to the players!


    His tweets only came to light after the majority of comments by pundits had been made. Pat Nevin, on national TV the next morning, was very venomous in his defence of Hazard and condemnation of the ball boy. He was unaware of his ties to the club his name, his tweets or indeed his age. But why his age should have anything to do with it is beyond me. It is someone giving up there time to assist the flow of the game, If he was 7, 17, 27 or 77 it should make no difference. The players should be grateful for the assistance. The fact that the likes of Rio Ferdinand sarcastically tweeted that he wasn’t aware being a ball boy was now a career choice suggest just how far removed footballers have become from the real world- It would be a cracking job apart from the risk of personal injury. Balls get kicked into the crowd and someone stuffs it up their jumper - No one raises a comment. Players throw the ball away, feign injury, walk as slowly as is humanly possible, to be; substituted, take throw in, corners or free kicks, all in order to waste time. One ball boy gets man handled to the ground and somehow doesn’t manage to place the ball in Hazard’s hands – so he deserves a kicking? If hazard hadn’t jumped on him when he was bending over to pick up the ball he wouldn’t have fallen over. Almost instantly Hazard was pawing him like a deranged animal before kicking him to release the ball. So the kid tweeted some bravado before the game, and you believe that his act of lying on the ball was premeditated???? For 50 minutes he returned the ball without delay without interference from the players.


    I believe his act of wasting time was premeditated yes....because he said he was going to do it beforehand, not necessarily by lying on the ball. And there were other issues earlier in the game with ball boys not returning the ball....just none of them reached the same levels as this one. As for Pat Nevin the next day, I would be very surprised if he was unaware of the ball boy's ties to the club, the tweets etc since it was all over twitter within an hour of the game finishing! (I knew about it all within an hour). As a journalist and pundit, twitter is now a very big part of his job. Don't get me wrong....i am not saying what hazard did was acceptable at all! Just think there is two sides to this story. As for the age of the ball boys....standard practice in the premiership is to have young members (12/13) of the Home teams youth team as the ball boys. This way they are answerable to the club and won't threaten their position within the youth team by doing anything stupid like what this ball boy did.


    I was aware of the ball boy age practice but my point is it should actually make no difference what age they are. What is evident is that the whole incident simply high lights the problem with the game, from the players to the kids that are meant to assist with keeping the game flowing - none of them are capable of showing an ounce of sportsmanship and the people that commentate on it are blind to the problem.

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