Ethics in Sports

To understand the role ethics plays in sport and competition, it is important to make a distinction between gamesmanship and sportsmanship.

Gamesmanship is built on the principle that winning is everything. Athletes and coaches are encouraged to bend the rules wherever possible in order to gain a competitive advantage over an opponent and to pay less attention to the safety and welfare of the competition. Some of the key tenants of gamesmanship are:

  • Winning is everything

  • It's only cheating if you get caught

  • It is the referee's job to catch wrongdoing, and the athletes and coaches have no inherent responsibility to follow the rules

  • The ends always justify the means

Some examples of gamesmanship are:

  • Faking a foul or injury

  • Attempting to get a head start in a race

  • Tampering with equipment, such as corking a baseball bat in order to hit the ball farther

  • Covert personal fouls, such as grabbing a player underwater during a water polo match

  • Inflicting pain on an opponent with the intention of knocking him or her out of the game, like the Saint's bounty scandal

  • The use of performance-enhancing drugs

  • Taunting or intimidating an opponent

  • A coach lying about an athlete's grades in order to keep him or her eligible to play

Ethics in sport requires four key virtues: fairness, integrity, responsibility, and respect.


  • All athletes and coaches must follow established rules and guidelines of their respective sport.

  • Teams that seek an unfair competitive advantage over their opponent create an uneven playing field which violates the integrity of the sport.

  • Athletes and coaches are not discriminated against or excluded from participating in a sport based on their race, gender, or sexual orientation.

  • Referees must apply the rules equally to both teams and cannot show bias or personal interest in the outcome.


  • Similar to fairness, in that any athlete who seeks to gain an advantage over his or her opponent by means of a skill that the game itself was not designed to test demonstrates a lack of personal integrity and violates the integrity of the game.


  • To be sportsmanlike requires players and coaches to take responsibility for their performance, as well as their actions on the field. This includes their emotions.

  • Many times athletes and coaches will make excuses as to why they lost the game. The most popular excuse is to blame the officiating. The honorable thing to do instead is to focus only on the aspects of the game that you can control, i.e. your performance, and to question yourself about where you could have done better.

  • Responsibility requires that players and coaches be up to date on the rules and regulations governing their sport.

  • Responsibility demands that players and coaches conduct themselves in an honorable way off the field, as well as on it.


  • All athletes should show respect for teammates, opponents, coaches, and officials.

  • All coaches should show respect for their players, opponents, and officials.

  • All fans, especially parents, should show respect for other fans, as well as both teams and officials.


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