The Roar
The Roar


How important are ethics in sport?

Is there anything worse than diving in football? AP Photo/Jon Super
Roar Guru
7th October, 2017
2650 Reads

The fact of the matter is the sporting public are quite tolerant of poor conduct. Sadly, it takes much to make any significant change to behaviour.

Many will modify behaviour. For example, it is not uncommon to support one player over another. Rarely it seems however does this translate into rejecting the sport itself.

If correct, it suggests a disconnect between what people state as to the importance of ethics in sport and how it influences their behaviour.

What is meant by ethics in sport?

I am content to use the definition of ethics from the Markkula Centre for Applied Ethics, which is to the effect that that an ethical approach to sport relates to sportsmanship.

Under this model, healthy competition is a means of cultivating personal honour, virtue and character. That the goal in sportsmanship is not simply to win, but to pursue victory with honour by giving one’s best effort.

The definition draws the distinction from gamesmanship where winning above all else is the predominant aim.

The approach refers to four key virtues being integrity, fairness, respect and responsibility.


To elaborate, fairness is playing within the rules.

Integrity is not playing within the ‘spirit’ of the game. Faking for fouls, strategic injury time outs or professional fouls are departures from how the sport ought to be played.

Respect is for the sport, officials, and fellow players. Respect is to be demonstrated by coaches, administrators, parents and fans alike.

Responsibility is ownership of conduct and actions. Whether it be governance, or inappropriate sponsorship for clubs or for individuals, it may be blaming officials for a loss or owning up to poor on or off-field conduct.

Tolerance levels
It is apparent there are varying levels of tolerance of such conduct.

It is easy to state that taking performance-enhancing substances is totally unacceptable. Likewise racial vilification has no place in sport, or indeed anywhere. That while many regret the incidence of gambling dollars or alcohol sponsorship, there are sufficient examples of this occurring that it cannot be seen as an inhibitor for the majority of people.

When it comes to sledging, abuse of officials or faking fouls, there are sports where this is an accepted part of the game. Consider soccer, cricket and tennis in this regard. It may not be admired, but it thrives. In various sports, coaches patrol the side-lines providing a running commentary often directed at the officials.


If all of the stated virtues were considered sacrosanct, sport as we know it would not operate.

So while we may say ethics in sport is important to us, when scrutinised, this may not be the case.

The question is where on the ethical sports scale does each individual draw the line. It is a subjective issue. DA may be at the sensitive end of the scale, but this exercise has emphasised the DA tolerance level remains disconcertingly high.

This is not intended to be an extremist position. There is nothing wrong with competition per se, or physicality where the sport requires it, or celebrating success. It makes allowances for characters, the odd brain fade or tantrum.

It is however about taking a stand against corrupt, unsociable and unacceptable practices. About calling out those players who perennially exhibit poor and boorish behaviour.

Seeking the sporting public’s view
I am interested to determine if this is an isolated view. Whether there is any real appetite to take a stand against poor conduct, or whether it is considered a futile exercise.

The majority of sports fans feel disempowered and lacking in influence. Much is blamed in the professionalism of sport. As a result there is a begrudging acceptance of poor behaviour.


Are ethics in sport important to you?