Is sportsmanship dead?

Luis Suarez’s handball goal for Liverpool against Mansfield at the weekend has again put football’s values under the microscope. But are other sports really any better? Our writers assess the ethical state of their games

Click to follow
The Independent Football


If Luis Suarez were a golfer he would have called the infringement on himself. Or at least he would have asked for a ruling. Golf has had its moments in the cheating stockade but they serve only to shine a light on the purity of the game.

In recent years Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell have fallen foul of golf’s iron rule book for involuntary movements or, in the case of Poulter, an accident when he dropped his ball on his marker causing it to move a fraction, incurring a one-shot penalty. Poulter was locked in a play-off for the 2010 Dubai World Championship (right). He called referee Andy McFee, who confirmed Poulter’s fears. The fumble cost him victory and £350,000 in prize-money.

At the BMW Championship at Crooked Stick last September McDowell called a two-shot penalty on himself for touching, at address, a leaf attached to a branch resting behind his ball in a bunker. The ball did not move, the lie did not improve yet he breached a regulation relating to loose impediments.

In 2011 Elliot Saltman was banned for three months for repeatedly replacing his ball incorrectly at a minor European Tour event in Russia. It was the first punishment for cheating in 10 years.

Assessment: Alive and kicking

By Kevin Garside



Cricketers cheat. It is an accepted element of the professional game but one which at international level may be eradicated by a universally applied umpire decision review system keeping all players more honest.

The simplest, most enduring form of sharp practice is the refusal by almost all batsmen to walk if they are caught, usually off a thin edge to the wicketkeeper. They stand and wait for the umpire to adjudicate, reckoning that over the course of a career they will win some and lose some.

This system works up to a point – as long as no one complains when they are on the rough end of the deal. Occasionally, fielding sides gang up on the offending batsman but this is a bit rich since they would do precisely the same.

In one of the more unedifying recent examples, in June 2008, the then England one-day captain Paul Collingwood (above) refused to overturn the run-out of New Zealand batsman Grant Elliot, who was injured in a collision with bowler Ryan Sidebottom. Collingwood apologised after the match at The Oval but it was too little, too late.

Appeals are also made to the umpire by bowlers who know the batsman cannot be out, either because a catch did not carry or, in the case of an lbw shout because the batsman has hit the ball.

Although it is odd to condone such outright disregard for the laws it is by and large effective as long as players accept that the umpire’s decision is final and binding.

Assessment: Dead and buried

By Stephen Brenkley



Thanks to Hawk-Eye there are fewer occasions these days in top-flight tennis when players are called upon to display sportsmanship. If you disagree with a line call, a video replay challenge will deliver a definitive verdict. Hawk-Eye is now in use on the bigger show courts at nearly every major tournament, except on clay, where the mark left by the ball resolves most disputes, even though there are still times when the latter system is not foolproof.

Nevertheless, there are other occasions when players can show their honesty: for example when they touch the net, or when the ball comes into contact with their clothing, or when it bounces twice before they hit it. Britain’s Jonny Marray (above left) showed great sportsmanship en route to the Wimbledon doubles title last summer when he owned up to touching the net during a tie-break.

There is a general appreciation of the need for honesty, because even the top players will have spent their formative years playing without umpires and having to rely on their opponents’ integrity. However, as even the most humble club players would confirm, there are always those who cheat with their line-calling.

Assessment: Alive and kicking

By Paul Newman


Rugby Union

The late Andy Ripley was the embodiment of rugby union’s long-treasured code of honour: while playing for Rosslyn Park against Wasps towards the end of his long career, the back-rower cost his side three points by advising a befuddled referee that a drop-goal attempt by the opposition had gone over the bar rather than under it.

Ripley was deeply suspicious of the game’s embrace of professionalism, partly because he did not believe a paid player would volunteer such information in a month of Sundays. He was probably right. However high the moral ground rugby thinks it inhabits it is barely less cynical than any other major sport. The fake blood affair at Harlequins (right) and Neil Back’s sneaky “hand of Lucifer” intervention on behalf of Leicester in a Heineken Cup final against Munster were deadly sins, while law changes tend to be driven by systematic cheating on a scale far less grand.

It is just about possible to imagine someone emulating the great Wales outside-half Phil Bennett, who, while playing for Llanelli, famously pleaded with the referee not to send off the All Black lock Graeme Higginson. But only just.  

Assessment: Dead and buried

By Chris Hewett



No sportsmen set the rules of their rivalry harder than jockeys – but none fairer, either. For while no quarter is ever given in a finish, each rider is first united by the obligation not to put another in an ambulance. Nothing incenses a jockey more than a perceived betrayal of fellowship.

Breaches of protocol are typically sorted out privately in the changing room. In 2010, however, two top American jockeys had a public brawl over allegations of dangerous riding at the Breeders’ Cup. In front of a crowded winner’s circle Calvin Borel grabbed Javier Castellano by the neck and began throwing punches (above).

The very word “chivalry” evokes the high conduct expected of the horseman. In the 2001 Grand National, with only two still standing on the home turn, Timmy Murphy and Richard Guest agreed not to use their whips on the heavy ground, and let the stronger horse assert. And only a couple of months ago, after Richard Hughes had won six of the first seven races at Windsor, Ryan Moore surrendered the ride on the favourite in the last – enabling Hughes to become only the second to ride seven winners at a British meeting.

Assessment: Alive and kicking

By Chris McGrath