My friend and redoubtable tennis partner, Andrew, arrived at court yesterday brimming with moral outrage. It was not his customary rage about London traffic or the iniquities of the capital's car parking arrangements: he wanted to talk about ethics, decency, honesty and Roberto Mancini.
"Everything that's wrong with football," he opined from astride his high horse, "was encapsulated in the interview with Mancini after the match last night."
For those with less than a passing interest in the national game, the Manchester City manager was asked his opinion about a dubious late penalty that gave his side a fortunate 1-1 draw. Instead of admitting that the referee had probably made a mistake awarding the penalty, Mancini affected an unquestioning insouciance.
"He would have been incandescent with fury had it gone against him," said Andy, "so why can't he just admit that the referee got it wrong. It wasn't even his mistake that he had to own up to. I just want to hear some honesty."
It's a fair point, for sure, although from my partisan standpoint, I felt I ought to defend Mancini. It's a bit much to expect managers of football clubs to uphold the highest standards of truthfulness when those in more important areas of public life fall short. Evasive and cravenly partisan politicians have done their part to ensure the honesty bar is set a little lower. I accept that on the rare occasions when a politician owns up to a mistake – Nick Clegg, for instance – the prevailing reaction is one of derision and disparagement, but that may be because such occurrences are so unusual that we haven't worked out the proper mature response yet.
Let those who have a responsibility for raising the level of public discourse set higher standards, and then we can criticise football managers. There was no stopping Andrew, however. "I'm not talking about politics," he said. "Without a basic level of honesty, which transmits into sportsmanship, football is just another cut-throat capitalist pursuit." In this, he is certainly right, although I suspect the battle to ensure that football rose above grubby financial concerns was lost when Rupert Murdoch's millions changed the direction of the game.
Nevertheless, it is not axiomatic that sportsmanship is lost when the stakes are high. Look at the Ryder Cup. Even in the most tense, pressurised, stressful sporting arena, the courtesies of the game are observed, exemplified by Tiger Woods' gracious concession of a putt on the final green. There are countless other examples of golfers behaving with integrity, often at personal cost. I can't believe that, once they're out of their plaid trousers, golfers are fundamentally more honest people than footballers, or, for that matter, politicians. It's just that their game – also awash with cash – has a code of conduct that is imbued in all who play it.
I don't know whether Roberto Mancini is a golfer or not, but I am sure he would be an utterly honest one. In golf, as in football, and as in life, we can only be judged by the mores of the game we play.