Sport’s moral high ground – Does it exist?
Cristiano Ronaldo for
Manchester United v AC Milan – 9.75?
To watch professional footballers “diving”, whether it be
the EPL, Champions League or FIFA World Cup, is to conclude the game is
short on scruples. Here we have players feigning injury, allegedly through
illegal contact from an opposing player, in order to influence the referee
to award a penalty. This ruse, which rarely receives punishment, is
The professional rugby player who has won more international acclaim than
any other – All Black skipper Richie McCaw – has, depending upon which team
you support, built his reputation upon infringing the rules of the game more
successfully than any of his opponents.
In the first test of this summer’s Ashes Series, English batsman Stuart
Broad played and nicked a ball that was caught by the Australian slips
cordon. But Broad, who would later admit to knowing he had nicked it,
emulated the majority of today’s batsmen by refusing to walk. Having stayed
his ground he went on to score a further 26 runs – a telling factor given
Australia finished just 14 runs from target.
Wide acceptance of illicit drug use within other sports, such as cycling and
athletics, are well known. The Armstrongs and the Johnsons simply did what
many of their peers were doing – victory being too important to jeopardise.
The issue being highlighted is not about what these players did. Rather, it
is that such actions are, or were accepted as part and parcel of that sport
at that time. That such action is regarded as normal implies something about
the core values of that particular sport, particularly so if it means the
difference between winning and losing. The ethos “Winning isn’t everything;
it’s the only thing,” is alive and well.
When I first started playing competitive golf in Thailand, I remember being
quite taken with observing how the many different types of golfer actually
got on. It seemed to me that no matter one’s nationality, skill-level, age
or gender the chances of having a bloody good day out playing golf was high.
The fact that not everyone in the playing group spoke English didn’t seem to
matter one jot, and nor did it detract from the sense of camaraderie enjoyed
by all during post-round drinks. Which has caused me to wonder; is there any
other sporting environment where such a mini-UN happens so often and so
One of the keys underpinning the success of golf in the Kingdom is the
respect that most participants have for not only the game, but also its
rules, its customs and its legacy. Matters golf transcend nationalities and
cultures to the extent that most of us know what can and cannot be done,
wherever we are from.
That golf forms the cornerstone of a reasonably large expat community –
resident and visitor – here in Thailand, is testament to not just the game’s
international reach, but to its centuries-old requirement that competitors
be their own referee. This, in my humble opinion, is the underlying reason
why the level of respect between golf’s participants exceeds that of any
other sport. It is an underlying reason why Thailand’s multi-cultured
golfing society succeeds to the degree that it does.
At one point during the Open Championship of 2003, Nick Faldo was leading by
one shot from little known Brit, Mark Roe. Journeyman Roe and playing
partner Jesper Parnevik had forgotten to exchange cards at the start of the
round, thus mistakenly signing their own cards instead of each other’s.
Result: immediate DQ.
That this tournament would have been 40yo Roe’s finest moment in his golfing
career was recognised by compassionate media who, encouraged by sympathetic
fans, launched a campaign for reinstatement. But Roe steadfastly refused to
“I would not have played and I would not have wanted to play if they had
overturned the disqualification,” he said. “I wouldn’t ask for a change in
the Rules of Golf.”
And neither would his peers. In this the game is irreproachable. Players,
whether leading professionals or weekend warriors, regard the Rules as
sacrosanct. I cannot think of any other sport where contestants are so
mindful of the letter and spirit of the Rules – such as calling penalties
upon themselves – to the extent golfers are. Now here is the really telling
thing – such action is not regarded as a big deal. Nor do fellow players
mock such honesty. Rather, it is regarded as integral to the spirit of the
Put another way, it is highly unlikely that any golfer playing in his/her
society’s comp this coming week will behave as Stuart Broad did at Trent
Bridge in July.
Whilst not claiming golf deserves to occupy sport’s moral high ground –
still some gender-bias out there – in terms of playing by the rules, written
or implied, it certainly sets a great example. Winning is good, winning well
is way better.