So where is that proverbial line in the sand when it comes to ethical behavior in sports? The Olympics it seems slipped from its traditional values to an almost farcical demonstration of athletes doing what they can to secure that elusive gold medal and all the fame that comes in tow. Scandals emerged that have us scratching our heads wondering whether to blame the athlete or the system – or both – and the old adage of “it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game” could not ring more untrue. Like some 2012 Olympians, the mantra was, “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”.
Doping notwithstanding, since any athlete that feels the need for chemical assistance is truly a cheat and should be banned immediately for life from competing ever again, the issues arising from the London Olympics came from situations where the rules weren’t actually broken. So can you fault the athletes, who were there to win gold, for manipulating a system to their best advantage for victory?
We have all heard about the badminton fiasco. Multiple pairs trying their utmost to lose a round robin match for a preferable draw in the knock-out rounds. Hypothetically, faced with the same dilemma, if the reward for me to win a squash match in a tournament was to immediately play Ramy Ashour, as opposed to a much lower ranked player, but still be in the running to win the event, I doubt very much I would have thrown the match. Even though I would much rather lose to Ramy in the final than in the first round, I couldn’t stomach losing on purpose. The badminton player’s issue was their subtlety. There wasn’t any. It was clear what they were trying to do, but as professional players, they surely could have done a better job of acting like they were trying but just having a bad day at the office. But was the decision for them to be kicked out of the Games ridiculous? Yes, it was poor sportsmanship, but they didn’t break the rules. In fact, they were doing whatever it took to give them the best chance to win. Even if it meant losing. Blame the system? Then, organizers should have been sent home too.
It really comes down to one thing as far as I am concerned: self-respect. In the grand scheme of things, you play for one person only – yourself. You are the one person you cannot avoid living with 24/7, so you should probably have the need to feel good about yourself. Do you pride yourself on following the rules, being fair, but also busting a lung to win whenever you play? Would you much rather lose having played hard, than win under controversy? Everyone hates losing. And everyone loves wining. But does it need to come at a cost of your dignity or integrity?