Unthinkable: Can you cheat in sport and still be said to have won?

Making a case for the ‘moral victory’ in sport

Fri, Feb 14, 2014, 16:40

“Using a car or taking a shortcut would not allow an athlete to win a marathon, even if it would allow her to reach the finish before her opponents. The end goal of sport is defined in terms of the means. If an athlete does not follow the prescribed means, she can’t achieve the desired goal. The slogan for this position might be: ‘Cheaters never win, because [by definition] they can’t.’”

Do fans bear some responsibility for cheating in sport by advocating an ‘ends justifies the means’ philosophy?
“Fans help to shape the incentives and moral standards to which athletes are held accountable. If fans have a weak commitment to fair play – perhaps failing to appreciate what it means for a victory to be meaningful – this can make it more difficult for their players to see and do the right thing. To say that fans can help to create conditions conducive to cheating is not to excuse the athlete who cheats. It is to extend the scope of responsibility to fans, not to extinguish the athlete’s responsibility.”

What moral difference is there between doping and taking non-prohibited bulking products or aids such as creatine?

“There is a spectrum, from eating large amounts of tuna to using anabolic steroids. Can we identify a non-arbitrary point to distinguish between permissible and impermissible substances?

“Difficult calls have to be at the margins, but we should make these decisions considering the health of athletes and whether the impact of any enhancement – pharmacological or otherwise – would undermine the display of the excellences around which the sport is organised. This latter element depends on each sport’s understanding of its purpose, so it points to a sport-by-sport approach to the banned list rather than the less tailored, almost one-size-fits-all approach that we have now.”

Are sports that involve a higher degree of physical violence or injury, such as boxing or rugby, implicitly less moral than, say, tiddly-winks?

“Sports involving violent collisions might appear morally objectionable on several fronts. The risk to health to which athletes expose themselves in these sports is concerning.

“This raises the question of whether athletes knowing the risks and having freely consented to participate dissolves any concerns we might have about the morality of people engaging in such dangerous activities.

“Is consent really enough to extinguish any moral concerns we may have? If it is, given both the often limited understanding that athletes have of the risks they are taking, and pressures from coaches, agents and sponsors, do athletes really consent in a meaningful way?”


Question: “Penalty! Referee, are you blind?”

Bertrand Russell replies: “We all have a tendency to think that the world must conform to our prejudices.”

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Twitter: @JoeHumphreys42

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