Monday, July 12, 2010

Would you break a rule to prevent your opponent from winning?

By Tom Grant
PhD student, Center for ETHICS*

Seconds from the end of overtime in a World Cup quarterfinal, Ghana’s Dominic Adiyiah headed a ball toward Uruguay’s net. Uruguay’s goalie was nowhere near it. The ball was heading high toward the top of the net. That’s when Uruguay’s Luis Suarez, standing on goal line nearly inside the net, leaped up and knocked the ball away with his fist.

The referee gave Suarez a red card and threw him out of the game. The handball was clearly illegal. But Ghana missed the penalty kick and the game ended. Uruguay won the match in the shootout. Suarez became a hero in Uruguay — and a goat in Ghana and many other parts of the world.

Some writers say it was morally wrong for Suarez to break the rules to win the game. Suarez thinks it was the right thing to do: “It was worth it to be sent off in this way. It was complicated and tough. We suffered to the end but the hand of god is mine now.”

Other athletes feel as Suarez does. Suresh Menon comments in Tehelka Magazine:

“CONSIDER GERMAN goalkeeper Manuel Neur’s reaction to the goal by England’s Lampard that was disallowed by the referee: ‘After I turned around, I just focused on the ball. I tried to continue playing quickly so that the referees wouldn’t notice the ball was in.’ Or Thierry Henry’s confession after the referee failed to notice his handball that led to a goal in the crucial qualifying game that knocked Ireland out of the reckoning: ‘It was a handball. But I am not the referee. I played it, the ref allowed it,’ and then, ‘It was necessary to exploit what was exploitable.’

“At what point did fair play and sportsmanship ooze out of sport so thoroughly to be replaced by the need to win at all costs, and the deification of the cheat who doesn’t get caught? On the other hand, why should sport — widely believed to mirror society — answer to a greater morality than other fields of human endeavour?”

Philosophers and researchers know, even child’s play is governed by rules that determine the structure of the game. German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer noted that the structure of the game is critically important to the players. As Bert Oliver wrote, “It is more a case of the players being played by the game than the other way around. The structure of the game — whatever it is — makes certain demands on the players, and if they overstep these demands or ignore them, the game stagnates.”

What happens when a player willingly breaks the rules to win a game? Does it hurt the game? Or is the action of Suarez indicative of a set of rules outside the game, rules that encourage gamesmanship, interference by fans and abuse of officials? Have we created a new game structure where such thing are expected because winning is so important?

Here’s what Dr. Sharon Kay Stoll says:

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