The assembly helps children to understand that fairness is an intrinsic quality of all sport – that cheating damages the sport as well as taking away from the achievements of the cheat

The MCC, which is the guardian of the laws and spirit of the game of cricket, has launched a ’Spirit of cricket’ campaign. The intention is to preserve and develop the concept of fair play in young people, across all their sporting activities.

Nothing essential, but if you or a staff member play golf you could use a club to illustrate the Brian Davis story.

Do you cheat when you play games? Of course not. You all know better than that. Or I hope you do anyway. We certainly teach you not to cheat. But I see that the MCC – the Marylebone Cricket Club – which is a very old club, and is in charge of the laws of the game of cricket, has done some research on young people cheating. They’ve found that lots of young people admit to cheating at games, because they’re so keen to win.

Now the MCC doesn’t like this at all, so they’re running a ’Spirit of Cricket’ campaign to help young people understand what fair play is all about. You see cricket, particularly, is very proud of its sporting traditions. Cricket is a game where people on the whole don’t cheat. A game of cricket has umpires – two in fact – who keep a close eye on the players, but even so there are lots of times when only the player knows if he or she is out. Can anyone give me an example of how that can happen?

One of the most common is when a fast ball comes past the batsman, very close to the bat, and it’s not certain whether the ball nicked the bat or missed it. If the wicket keeper catches the ball after it passes the bat, the player will be out if the ball touched the bat – but not if it didn’t. Now, the umpire might not be able to see or hear whether the ball touched the bat. But the player will have felt it touch, and will know whether they’re out or not. Many people believe that the player should immediately walk away from the game if they know they’re out, without waiting for the umpire’s decision. That’s how the game is played in school, and in most adult games, and that’s how it was once played even at the highest level.

That’s one example. Here’s another. If a player hits the ball, and a fielder chases it and dives and catches it very close to the ground, then there’s a chance that it might have touched the ground. If it does touch the ground, the player is not out. If it’s a clean catch above the ground, the player is out. Neither the player not the umpire might know for sure, but the fielder probably does, and in a fair game they should admit if the player is not out.

Every game has lots of examples where only the players really know whether a rule has been broken, or whether someone is out or not.

Of course it can be very difficult to admit that you’re out when nobody else has realised. But if you go on playing when you know you should be out, then you don’t really deserve any of the glory. Fancy going up to receive a cup when you know you really shouldn’t be there at all. That’s not a good position to be in, is it?

What’s the most common method of cheating in football do you think? Yes, it’s what’s called diving. That’s when a player pretends to have been tripped or injured by a bad tackle, usually inside the penalty box. It’s an attempt to get a penalty. And it sometimes works because it can be difficult for the referee to know whether the player really was brought down by somebody else or not.

The trouble is, of course, that players in all sports really really want to win. At the highest level there’s a lot of money involved, and the temptation to cheat is very great – by breaking the rules, or by taking drugs, or by trying to pay another player to lose. But of course it completely spoils what the sport is all about. That’s because sport only really works when it’s a fair and equal contest of skill and strength. There’s great dignity in that, because the successful sportsman or sportswoman can be proud and content with their achievements.

There are many examples of good sporting behaviour. In the 1964 Winter Olympics, the Italian bobsleigh team lent a spare part to the British team when their sled had a broken runner and it looked as if they’d be out of the competition. The British won gold and the Italians came second. Then in December 2000, footballer Paolo di Canio of West Ham refused to take advantage of an injured opponent. He took a pass in front of the Everton goal, but he saw that Everton goalkeeper Paul Gerrard was lying injured. Canio could have scored in the open goal, but he picked the ball up instead and stopped play, refusing to take advantage of Gerrard’s injury. As a result, Di Canio won the 2001 Fifa Fair Play Award.

Perhaps the most recent story that shows us what the spirit of sport is all about is the one that came from America only a short time ago, on 19th April.

It was in a big golf match in South Carolina. The British golfer Brian Davis was playing American Jim Furyk. They were level in a play-off together. For Davis it would be a very important win; the biggest of his career.

Davis, though, hit his ball into rough ground. He had to hit it out of the rough on to the green to stand a chance of winning. So he stood over the ball, took his club back and took his shot. But he knew something was wrong. He realised that as he’d taken his club back it had moved a piece of loose vegetation, not much more than a leaf really. Now that’s against the rule that prevents golfers from moving loose stuff to make it easier to hit the ball. Nobody saw it happen except for Brian Davis himself. He called the rules official over and told him, and he was given a two stroke penalty and he lost the match. The video shows a small piece of reed had moved as Davis had swung his club back. The movement of the reed was so slight that people afterwards asked him if he was sure he’d done it with his club. He said,

‘I know I did. I could not have lived with myself if I had not called it on myself.’

In many ways, golf is a special game, because players really are expected to be completely fair about the very many rules they play to. It would be so easy to move a ball to a better spot while nobody’s looking in some woodland at the edge of the course, for example, but you then have to live with the knowledge that you’ve done it.

Think of it like this. Imagine if a family member – your mum or dad or uncle or aunt, or brother or sister – were to win a game by cheating, or by not owning up when they’ve really been caught behind the wicket at cricket, or by making a golf ball easier to hit. Imagine them coming home and you running up to them so proud and keen to tell everyone and getting permission to bring the cup into assembly. How would your family member feel inside if that happened do you think?

Sport is all about being proud and having respect for yourself and your team mates and your opponents. Without pride and respect there can be no sport. And make no mistake; pride isn’t just about winning. It’s about being feeling good that you’ve done your best – fairly and honestly.

A prayer
Lord, we thank you for the chance to take part in sport and games. We thank you for the joy of success, and the satisfaction of knowing that we’ve done our best. Help us to enjoy the success of others, and to learn from them how to do even better next time.

A thought
A great Olympic canoeing coach said to me: ‘Your competitor is your friend. Your competitor paces you to success.’

Things to think about
Do you think Brian Davis is a loser? Do you think his family are proud of him? If you had to write a letter to him, what would you say?


This e-bulletin issue was first published in April 2010

About the author: Gerald Haigh