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Arts & Letters Daily


Cheat in Sport

Cheat is sport’s new norm

David McCarthy, an Alberta provincial team soccer coach, has seen 12-year-olds admit to bad plays that referees have missed. But a video showing French captain Thierry Henry handling a ball that led to the game-tying goal on Wednesday that gave France a spot in the World Cup finals – and remaining silent – has Mr. McCarthy wondering if he’ll witness less honour on the field.

The French captain has become the subject of international outrage as many – from Irish fans and their Prime Minister to French gym teachers – condemned his decision not to admit to handling the ball in the build-up to a goal that eliminated Ireland and sent his team to next summer’s World Cup finals.

But sports ethicists say the incident symbolizes a new reality in competitive sport. Mr. Henry may be a cheat, they said, but his refusal to admit it mid-game just makes him a modern-day competitor.

“Is he a bad guy? No. He’s a normal guy in the sense of what’s going on in sports today. He did what most people would do,” said Sharon Stoll, a University of Idaho professor who runs the Center for Ethical Theory and Honor in Competition and Sport.

Prof. Stoll’s research has measured the moral compass of 90,000 athletes ranging from those in high school to the pros, and she says ethics in sports is at a historic low. A drive to win, combined with what she calls the twin “demons in the corner” – strategy and deception – have created a competitive culture where bending the rules has become the norm, she said.

World Cup match

Adapted from Friday’s Globe and Mail Published on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2009 10:21PM EST Last updated on Friday, Nov. 20, 2009 9:02AM EST


  • How might coaches train players to play honetly and fairly?
  • What traing do coaches need to prepare them to train players to play honestly and fairly?