GeoffLamberton Ethically Speaking

Its just not cricket, or is it?

Winning ugly is still winning.

Winnings not everything; its the only thing.

Sport is not life or death; its much more important than that.

Its summer and the media abounds with cricket stories. Given the Australian public is tiring of our national cricket teams continued domination, attention has switched to how we are winning. And its not always pretty.

Some of the ethical issues identified this cricket season are: 1. Appealing to the umpire when the fielding team know the opposition player is not out; 2. Continuing to bat even when a player knows [s]he is out; and3. Sledging opposition players.

The first two actions listed above both relate to honesty in cricket. Using the consequential approach to ethical analysis it is obvious why cricketers cheat. If they dont, they will be at a disadvantage because everyone else cheats. Hence it is standard practice to pressure umpires into making mistakes that increase your teams chance of winning.

The consequence of not wanting to be at a disadvantage (and losing more regularly than necessary) is an accepted culture of dishonesty within cricket that results in a continuous supply of incorrect umpiring decisions. This situation is not confined to cricket, although the concept of what represents cheating varies across sports. In football codes, players wait for the umpires to stop play. We dont expect the rampaging rugby winger to stop when they run onto a forward pass. A more sinister consequence of the everyone else cheats therefore so should I argument is the proliferation of performance enhancing drugs in sport.

When judging the morality of human behaviour, the consequential approach is one of many different ways of looking at ethics. I have mentioned Aristotles virtue ethics, where the right thing to do is that which would lead to being a virtuous person.

A virtuous sporting team could be expected to be successful, athletic, skillful, dedicated, tactically astute, fair, courageous and honest. The problem for our cricket team is the public has a rather inconsistent interpretation of honesty, but nevertheless it is still an expected virtue. The result is one of the great Australian sporting teams being labelled as unethical.

Is this fair? I think we all know the consequences of being caught being dishonest. A feeling of embarrassment, maybe a sense that we have let down our family, friends or colleagues, but often an overwhelming sense that we took an easy or even cowardly path. Should sport be any different?

There is a clear trade off in sport between two competing objectives; that is, being uncompromisingly honest in every action, or being totally focused on winning. These objectives conflict at various times throughout a sporting contest.

If we select the winning-is-everything option then athletes need to be prepared to accept some sections of the public will aspire to something more ethical. Similarly, critics need to recognise the prioritisation of winning is a national obsession, and our national cricket team is accurately reflecting this cultural trait.


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