Integrity in Sport: Is honesty the best policy?

I watched with interest the various English Football Association (FA) cup games that took place over the weekend. In particular the Mansfield Town FC Vs Liverpool FC game. For those of you who might not be aware of the result, Liverpool won the game 2-1. The second (and as it turns out decisive) Liverpool goal though was mired in controversy. The infamous Liverpool Striker Luis Suarez clearly handled the ball (which is against the rules) on route to scoring the ultimately decisive goal. If you are being black and white about it then this was an act of cheating underpinned by dishonesty. But is Suarez solely to blame for his course of action?


A number of commentators and media reporters have suggested that Suarez should have ‘come clean’ and admitted that he handled the ball, but is this realistic? Is a player going to own up to gaining an unfair advantage when the stakes are so high? There are already many other examples where this has not happened in the Premier League this season, with players instead choosing the ‘dishonest’ option.


This then got me thinking is this ‘dishonesty’ an issue that football as a sport has to deal on its own with or is it wider spread? Are honesty and fair play really core values in professional sport or do many sports and sports performers just pay lip service to them? Also, while this game of football was high profile and seem by millions across the world were Suarez’s actions out of step with our society in the UK? Would many members of the public own up to having had an unfair advantage if it resulted in a positive and desired outcome, and they were not caught?


Often the actions of the individual player should not be considered in Isolation. Often in team sports the player’s own morals and beliefs become fused with those of the club, and often the sport, all of which mirror aspects of our wider society. It is often said that football teams resemble their manager, so maybe the manager should take some of the blame.

Suarez 2

Maybe the actions of Suarez reflect an increasing ‘win at all costs’ mentality that is creeping into sport in the UK. The Olympic games were a great beacon of sportsmanship but did not involve the long-term scrutiny and financial rewards of a sport such as football. When the stakes are so high and everyone is craving success why would you admit to breaking the rules? The answer is hopefully because that is how you have group up and been taught to behave, but unfortunately for many young sports performers they are not getting this moral education.


Do we seek to actively develop good honest and morally strong sports performers? Or is there an over emphasis on that is most effective rather than what is right?


It might be time to start looking to build from the bottom up rather than asking the sports performers at the top to lead by example.




3 thoughts on “Integrity in Sport: Is honesty the best policy?

  1. While in the sport term an individuals integrity may not appear to have much impact, in the long term they will. Luis Suarez is a good example as although at first his cheating was to an extent accepted, over a sustained period of time it starts to undermine the values of the organisation and those within it. Mourinho is another potential example at Madrid, while his ability is undeniable the values he portrays seem to go against the values of some of the key players at the club i.e., Ramos, Cassilas, Alonso etc.


  2. Sport is, by definition, fun for the participants, whether there is an audience or not. Professional football is a game played for profit. I don’t see masses of critical self-analysis happening amongst players, fans and the media. What you do get is a kind of persistently miserable flag-waving for a vanishing pub culture. It really is a hard, gloomy game that takes itself too seriously and is increasingly out of step with key parts of society who are making the choice to invest their energy in competition that is cleaner and sharper in all respects and free from football’s constant undercurrent of aggression and violence; hence the pleasure that so many took in the Olympics. I think that reflects a true political movement based on choices that people now find they have as their education and opportunities improve. They choose to walk away from a game where cheating is rife, pundits and outrage abound, but nothing changes; much in the same way that they can choose to get in their cars to avoid travelling on trains with football hooligans, or can choose to watch streaming Olympics athletics content rather than wade through the self-serving sports coverage on back pages of the print media. Football has become ethically bankrupt and everyone knows it, really, deep down. How soon it dwindles away depends on how long people are prepared to wallow in nostalgia for the “lads” whose efforts on the field gave a kind of legitimacy to local and national group values and identity in the early to mid-20th century.

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