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Sport's greatest examples of fairplay

Other RSS / / 17 October 2008 / Leave a Comment

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Morgan in the driving seat - Allsy looks at memorable examples of fairplay in sport by Bobby Moore, Eugenio Monti and Paolo Di Canio amongst others and asks why we see fewer and fewer examples of such gestures in sport these days.

Increasingly gestures of "fair play" are few and far between in modern sport. We talk about the "spirit of the game" but while the trappings of cordiality are everywhere, with post-game handshakes and warm tributes, there is a significant difference between politeness and genuine sportsmanship. Fair play must occur when the final result is still unclear. Moreover, the gesture of good will is often to your detriment - it's often a sporting sacrifice of sorts. Sadly these kinds of gestures are rare with the majority of professional players bending the rules to their advantage at every opportunity.

Is it unreasonable to expect anything different in such a competitive era? The answer has to be a resounding 'yes' when we value victory above all else. Perhaps that's why acts of genuine sportsmanship linger so long in our memories? They're far too infrequent!

Pele's embrace of Bobby Moore, (in the act of swapping shirts at the 1970 World Cup), has endured for decades becoming an iconic snapshot. The mutual admiration and respect is there for all to see - Brazil won the match 1-0 but clearly, the spirit of this exchange has little to do with the final result.

Jesse Sweetser was one of golf's greatest amateur players. In 1926 he attempted to win the British Amateur title at Muirfield but was so sick (later to be diagnosed with tuberculosis) Sweetser was barely able to walk. The other finalist, A.F. Simpson, missed his tee time after his car broke down but Sweetser would not consider claiming a forfeit. He refused any concession and locked himself in the Muirfield restroom. An hour later Simpson arrived on a bicycle with his clubs tied to his back. The playoff began and a desperately sick Sweetser won 6 and 5.

The 1964 winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria offers another perfect example of classic sportsmanship. The British two-man bobsled team, led by Tony Nash, completed its first run placing second overall. Then Nash discovered a broken a bolt on the sled putting them out of the competition. At the bottom of the hill, the great Italian bobsled driver Eugenio Monti, (who was lying in first place), heard of their plight and without hesitation, removed the bolt from his own sled sending it to the British team at the top of the hill. Nash's team fixed their sled and clinched gold. Monti took the bronze and later commented, "Tony Nash did not win because I gave him a bolt. Tony Nash won because he was the best driver."

Olympians earn a pittance in comparison to other professional athletes so does money make it harder for fair play to blossom in sport? Anecdotal evidence would suggest it does but even as we lament the demise of fair play, the richest sports in the world do occasionally produce memorable acts of sportsmanship. Arsene Wenger earned plaudits in 1999 for offering to replay an FA Cup tie against Sheffield United following a disputed goal. Paolo Di Canio was once banned for eight games for pushing a referee but he later received a Fifa Fair Play award in 2001 for spurning an open goal when Everton keeper Paul Gerrard lay on the ground injured.

For many observers, cricket remains the last bastion of fair play in professional sport. The modern game is undeniably more hard-edged than in previous eras but modern players still possess the ability to inspire. Brian Lara still walks when caught behind while Adam Gilchrist walked in the 2003 World Cup semi-final against Sri Lanka when the umpire had ruled in his favour. Best of all in 1998 Australian captain, Mark Taylor, spurned the chance to beat Sir Donald Bradman's record (and Lara's world record of 375) for the highest individual score by an Australian. Taylor equaled the existing record of 334 against Pakistan and declared. Quite simply inspirational!

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