Tag Archives: sporting integrity

Integrity in Sport (With Reference to Lance Armstrong)

That Lance Armstrong inspired a generation to participate in sport is unquestionable.

That he founded a fantastic charity to raise money to help people affected by cancer will be remembered as his greatest contribution to humanity.

Sadly, that Lance Armstrong masterminded the most ‘sophisticated doping programme that sport has ever seen’ looks as if it is probably true about him too. The evidence would appear to be quite compelling.

Perhaps only his most loyal supporters still cling to the hope that these allegations will be proven false and his name will be cleared once and for all. But that seems highly unlikely now. It seems a foregone conclusion that he cheated his way through what appeared to be a string of outstanding sporting achievements.

Among the many questions Lance Armstrong will need to answer, this situation also forces us to revisit the bigger question of what we actually mean by sporting integrity. And it makes you think about how much cheating actually goes on in the financially lucrative industry of sport.

Not just cheating in the slightly more innocent sense of stealing an extra couple of yards when no-one is looking, or pretending to be fouled when you haven’t; but cheating in the uglier sense of organised match fixing, technical rigging and drug taking. The list goes on and on.

In recent times, it has become increasingly difficult to think of integrity in sport as a given. The sheer amount of money at stake has put paid to that. Much of the cheating that goes on at this level is managed quietly in the background, with team support, and with excruciating attention to detail.

It is usually always a sophisticated operation and sometimes with wider criminal intent.

Sporting integrity is a value that few people believe in now. It is not what we think it should be. Its crystalline purity has been forever tarnished by the dirty fingerprints of human greed – greed for achievement beyond your natural abilities and greed for financial returns not deliverable by honest endeavour.

Plato once described our earthly values as shadowy imitations of those that existed in the metaphysical World of Forms. If nothing else, subscribing to this ideal gives us a glimmer of hope. But it also exploits our weaknesses as human beings. We always want to believe in something better.

Perhaps our biggest failing is that we have been seduced by this way of thinking to assume that integrity in sport ought to exist in some type of platonic sense. How disappointed we are when we finally accept that this just isn’t the case.

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Integrity…? Morality in Sport is Just a Happy Coincidence.

Hardly a day goes by without another reminder of the multitude of corrupt practices underpinning many of our highly esteemed institutions and organisations. Pillars of honesty, trustworthiness and respectability they are not; guardians of fairness, integrity and respect, they have never been.

Increasingly it seems to be the case that you cannot have a fully functioning political, economic or social framework without the existence of deep rooted structural corruption. Reference the utter contempt that politicians, bankers, market traders, corporate executives and various other noble professionals have for the rest of us.

But reference also the various sporting institutions that purport to uphold the very same values. In Scottish football, for instance, we have a diabolical (no, comical) state of affairs; we have an unfolding story of systematic cheating, gross financial mismanagement, institutional bullying and contemptible conduct.

It is a despicable state of affairs, as is the false moral outrage of the individuals responsible for pretending to bring it back into check. They know they have too much to lose themselves if they make the correction process too severe, yet they have to be seen to be responding appropriately. They are upholders of truth and integrity, after all.

To assume that it would be perfectly acceptable to propose that the new Rangers football club – I don’t even know what they are supposed to be called these days – should be given access into the Scottish First Division, to bring about short term redemption without financially crippling the game, is to confirm what every honest football supporter already knew.

The bell tolled for Scottish football many years ago when David Murray introduced a new type of accounting practice and contentious contract management system, and it positively rang out when his slippery accomplice Craig Whyte continued that practice with intent.

Integrity was lost amidst the dubious financial shuffling that enabled the old club to cheat its way to success. But now it is definitely in danger of disappearing completely out of sight, and irretrievably so, with this latest development, just when many people thought that it had been restored…

I wouldn’t be surprised if the SPL Chairmen, who were happy to publicly declare their objection to the club being admitted to their league earlier this week, were somehow in on the act. Regardless how you dress it up, money seems to be the critical factor; morality in sport is just a happy coincidence, when it happens. I was sceptical at the time and I am sceptical now.

But perhaps the most distasteful thing about it is the part the rest of us are expected play in all of this. As the money men engineer the best possible solution for the new club (and every other club in Scottish football, we are led to believe), the honest supporter is asked to pay up and shut up, and maybe then everything will be ok again.

But that’s exactly the point. It won’t be ok again, because the big deal that was made about restoring integrity was, in fact, just a big sham.

It was just a big play for season ticket renewals whilst a deal was being done in the background to open alternative doors, which would lead very quickly back to the set-up the chairmen claimed they wanted to block.

Integrity…who even knows what that means anymore?

Certainly not the decision makers in Scottish football, that’s for sure.

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Who or What Defines Sporting Integrity?

Albert Camus wrote that what he knew most surely about morality, he owed to sport.

Camus was an author, philosopher and amateur footballer (he played in goals for the University of Algiers).

He held the view that political groups, religious bodies and other similar authorities, tend to create moral systems and frameworks that impose artificial and overly complex values on our lives, typically to suit their own ends and purposes.

Whereas he believed that a more simplistic sense of morality could be forged through resilient participation in basic human activities and practices. A sense of collective purpose, work ethic, bravery, discipline and fair play, characterise playing in a football team, for example, just as much as they give a sense of meaning to our own individual lives.

Building our idea of morality from the ground up as opposed to receiving it from external ‘authorities’ is the best we can hope for, according to this way of thinking. And there is a strong sense in which this view appeals to me.

But there is a problem with it, which the analogy with football highlights perfectly: it would be one thing to cultivate a sense of collective purpose among a group of naturally individualistic thinkers; it would be another thing entirely to use this as a foundation for morality, especially when our individualistic preferences rarely leave us.

There are too many instances of cheating and rule-breaking, bias and discrimination, self-indulgence and psychological egoism in football, as in the vast majority of human activities, that it hardly serves this purpose well. But on the other hand, Camus does seem to have a point regarding the artificiality and tendency to bias inherent in the alternative approach.

So the question we are left with is this: through which source do we come to understand the values of honesty, equality, fairness and integrity that are assumed to sit at the heart of sport, morality and life? Who or what defines them?

If we define these values through engaging in basic human activities and practices, they become susceptible to individualistic preference; if we have them imposed on us through external authorities, they become susceptible to authoritarian bias and corruption.

When we talk about upholding the value of integrity in sport, how do we know that our understanding of integrity is authentic; how do we know that our sense of integrity is not in some way tainted by our own individual preferences, particularly in football, when individual preferences are partly definitive of the competition itself?

Do we rely on the relevant authorities to define integrity in terms of the notions of fair play, sportsmanship, transparency and tolerance? Do we assume we understand this definition in a non-circular way? And how do we know that we can rely on footballing authorities not to subtly modify the meaning of integrity, as a direct consequence of their commercial responsibility to maximise revenue in the game?

The crux of the problem is that if you try to define the notion of sporting integrity from a vantage point within the system that it is supposed to regulate, it comes under pressure from competing and contradictory demands. If you try to define it from outside that system, there is a danger that the definition will fail to cope with the complexities that emerge from within the system.

It is incredibly difficult to get out of this tangle.

Our interpretation of what sporting integrity consists in is dangerously close to losing its authenticity whichever way you define it.

And its function as a standard is just as useful as one of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s elastic rulers that shrinks or expands to fit the size of the object it is measuring.

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Scottish Football’s Drift Towards Utilitarianism

I have been thinking about how the decision to allow a new Rangers FC to remain in the SPL would not come into conflict with the idea that sporting integrity is intrinsically valuable to Scottish football.

The only answer I can come up with is that Scottish football must be drifting towards some kind of utilitarian account of ethics.

When faced with a difficult decision or a troubling moral dilemma, a utilitarian account of ethics will define the right course of action in terms of its potential to create the greatest amount of good outcomes, and minimise the number of bad ones.

Utilitarianism is about deciding which action produces the best outcome for the majority of people concerned, rather than trying to decide whether an action is intrinsically right or wrong.

Now, should the SPL Chairmen decide that the right thing to do would be to allow a new Rangers FC to remain in their league, because the consequences of not making this decision would be financially disastrous for the majority of clubs concerned, they will have done so by adopting a utilitarian style of ethics.

One of the problems with utilitarianism is that its focus on outcomes as justifiers leaves open the possibility that a course of action may be promoted as the one which will lead to the greatest good, and therefore deemed the right thing to do, despite having stemmed from completely selfish motives.

In other words it becomes possible to accommodate a selfishly motivated course of action within what would appear to be an otherwise respectable moral space; and then it begins to seem obvious how the notion of sporting integrity would not come into conflict with a new Rangers FC in the SPL.

The answer is simple: the option of taking a course of action described as ‘upholding sporting integrity’ would be ethically managed out of the picture. On the utilitarian understanding of morality, equating ‘sporting integrity’ with ‘punishing a new Rangers FC’ would completely miss the point.

There would simply be no room for it within this moral space, because punishing a new Rangers FC would lead to an outcome inconsistent with achieving the greatest good for the majority of clubs concerned. So there would be absolutely no option but to eliminate this course of action as a moral contender at all.

And there we have it. No conflict.

But here is the sting with utilitarianism –

If you ethically manage the notion of ‘sporting integrity’ out of the picture, for the sake of the greater good, you need to be mindful that many of the beneficiaries of the greater good may not inhabit the same moral space of reasons and may completely disagree with the decision.

If they decided to remain true to their own moral space and refused to spend their money on their clubs next season, the SPL Chairmen’s decision to act for the greater good, as they calculated it, would turn out to be a serious error of judgement.

It is extremely difficult to predict how people are going to respond to major decisions like this one. It is completely new territory. The drift into utilitarianism may help the SPL chairmen feel better about looking after their short term financial interests at the point of making this decision, but it could end up being a financial and a moral disaster in no time at all.

By which point it would be too late to drift back towards the idea that ‘sporting integrity’ should somehow figure more prominently within their moral space of reasons.

It is one hell of a gamble to take.

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Dwain Chambers, Second Chances and Sporting Integrity

Dwain Chambers’ eligibility for inclusion in the British Olympic Team is a victory for legal process over ethics and sporting integrity.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport has ruled that the British Olympic Association’s byelaw, banning all athletes who have failed drugs tests from competing in the Games, is non-compliant with the World Anti-Doping Association’s code.

Chambers was banned from athletics for two years in 2003 after testing positive for an anabolic steroid, but the byelaw meant that we would be banned from competing in the British Olympic Team for life.

Having failed an earlier appeal, he has now had a ruling that the lifetime ban from the British Olympic Team would constitute a second ban, contravening the code that athletes can only be banned for one set term for a particular offence.

The British Olympic Association argued that it is an eligibility criterion for their Team that athletes cannot have been banned from competing for six months or more, rather than an additional sanction.

Regardless of whether it is viewed as an additional sanction or an eligibility criterion, the points that need to be considered are why certain forms of cheating are thought to be worse than others, and whether sportsmen who cheat should be given a second chance and an opportunity to redeem themselves?

Unsporting behaviour, simulation and feigning injury are forms of cheating that spoil competitions and merit punishment; but their seriousness seems to pale in comparison to that of match fixing and taking performance enhancing drugs.

Accepting bribes to throw matches and lose competitions, or the use of illicit substances to gain an unfair advantage, seem to be intrinsically worse than diving to win a foul or trying to get an opponent cautioned.

They are all forms of cheating. But some forms of cheating just seem to be worse than others. Perhaps it comes down to the fact that the latter forms of cheating are simply cases of bending rules to gain an advantage within a game; whereas the former are illegal and subject to punishment outside of the game.

It is not always clear and sometimes it can be difficult to prove, but I think that sportsmen who cheat in any form ought to be punished appropriately. Most of the time the punishment tends to fit the wrong doing, but there are times when it appears to be too lenient or excessive.

Getting the balance right is important. It needs to act as a deterrent without being overly punitive. It needs to send the message that there is no place for cheating in sport, without certain individuals being made scapegoats on points of principle.

Furthermore, the values of honesty, integrity and fair play need to be upheld in sport, otherwise there really would be no point in competing.

Why would you dedicate years of your life to your sport to take part in a competition you have no chance of winning, just because one individual has taken performance enhancing drugs or because the result was fixed anyway?

I am definitely in favour of giving people a second chance. Most of us will have cheated in a game at some point in our lives, or bent the rules in a friendly competition that had little consequence beyond the event itself.

But when the competition is organised on a professional level, when it takes years of dedicated training to achieve a superior level of performance, integrity and fair play must be guaranteed. Otherwise you cannot call it a sport.

Second chances sometimes compromise sporting integrity. When it is as serious as bribery, financial doping or drug taking, they also devalue the hard work, dedication and sacrifices made by those who competed honestly, but were cheated.

These individuals will never get a second chance to win the original competition.

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Martin Luther King Jr. on Scottish Football

I doubt that Martin Luther King Jr. would have been a big fan of Scottish football.

But the gentlemen who pull the strings in the SPL would have done well to take heed of his remark that, ‘true compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring’.

Putting this insight into context, it amounts to saying that an act that is often claimed to be for the good of others may actually hold limited value in itself; often its true effect is to divert our attention away from the corrupt elitism that created the dependency situation in the first place.

Corruption, bribery and elitism are rife in sport. But corruption can be very difficult to detect, and bribery more difficult again; whereas elitism is often evident, but very difficult to challenge.

Particularly when there is a degree of invisibility in the governance of an institution that appears to promote the values of sporting integrity and financial fair play; and particularly when few people bother to question this obvious contradiction with any serious intent.

By proposing new rules to guarantee the restoration of a bankrupt company as a supporting pillar within an edifice that is structurally flawed, the SPL has attempted to promote the idea that it is acting in the best interests of all of its dependent members.

When in actual fact, it has simply confirmed that its commercial strategies are built around maximising its own interests, and the interests of its hitherto prize, marketable asset, ‘Celtic and Rangers’.

So to paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr., genuinely acting in the best interests of Scottish football would not be a case of creating new rules to guarantee that you can still fling the other ten teams a coin tomorrow.

It would be a case of finding a way of restructuring the rotting edifice that produced this unhealthy dependency relationship in the first place. Rip it up and start again. For the benefit of everyone concerned about the future of Scottish football.

But that would only be a dream…

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Political Intervention (Interference) in Football

Alex Salmond is widely regarded as a very clever politician.

He has built a career around extolling the virtues of ‘independence’ and ‘autonomy’. If anyone was ever in doubt as to the meaning of these terms, I am confident he would be able to explain.

Yet his recent intervention in the case between HMRC and Rangers Football Club could be in danger of compromising the fundamental principles of ‘independence’ and ‘autonomy’ in the world of sport.

The purpose of these principles is to guarantee that sporting governance is not affected by political agenda within any given nation; they exist as a means of preserving the core values of ‘sporting integrity’ and ‘financial fair play’ across the globe.


Political intervention (interference) is not unknown in the world of football. The punishment can be severe. Not just from a sporting point of view, but also from a financial point of view; I am sure Alex Salmond and his advisors will be fully aware of that fact.

In 2004 the Greek government adopted a new law to increase its involvement in the running of professional football leagues, thus interfering in an area that should have been reserved to the Hellenic Football Federation.


Until the law was amended, the Greece national team faced expulsion from international competition, such as the World Cup and the European Championships, and clubs that had qualified for the Champions League and the EUFA Cup were also excluded.

The Scottish Government’s intervention in the case between HMRC and Rangers was driven by Alex Salmond’s belief that, whilst HMRC has a duty to ensure that taxation must be pursued in the public interest, they should also take cognisance of the fact that Rangers is “a huge institution, part of the fabric of the Scottish nation”.

Sympathisers may appeal to the argument that football is a recognised sociocultural and economic sector in Scotland, and as such the Government has a duty to intervene, despite what the international footballing authorities may have to say on the matter.

But if you accept this line of argument, you should also recognise that there is another urgent problem sitting right behind it: if you believe that intervention is legitimate, because of the assumed negative sociocultural and economic impact of not intervening, you ought to demonstrate true consistency in your position.

In other words, you need to follow through with the question why the autonomy of your country’s football governing body has created a context in which rule breaking has been possible in the first place. If you want to retain autonomy, you need to guarantee fitness for purpose.

Autonomy is a privilege which must be removed, not from football’s governing body itself, but from the fine upstanding gentlemen who hold office within that body, should there be any indication of institutional corruption and systematic abuse of power.

So by dint of intervention, Alex Salmond has inadvertently implied that the fundamental values the principle of autonomy was intended to guarantee were actually non-existent in Scottish football: sporting integrity and financial fair play.

He now needs to intervene again and sort that one out.

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