Thursday, 21 June 2012


There is a splutter of indignation that the England selectors intend to 3 players for the final ODI against W Indies. According to some this is undermining the integrity of the sport, as the strongest possible team should always be fielded.

Fantasy Bob pricked up his ears at the word integrity. As the opening extravaganza of the Olympics gets ever closer, there is an energetic discussion about the concept of sporting integrity going on. But for once the Olympics, and its commercial overkill or the treatment of known performance enhancing drug takers, are not in the eye of this moral storm.

Instead the vortex is to be found in the corridors of power of Scottish football, never previously noted for a commitment to integrity and, in recent years, only barely connected with anything recognisable as sport. But following the financial irregularities which led to the recent liquidation of the once mighty Glasgow Rangers, and the formation of NewCo FC (identified as Club 12 in the recently published Scottish fixture list), the chairmen of various Scottish football clubs face the decision as to whether to admit NewCo FC into the Scottish Premier League notwithstanding that the rules would suggest that any new club should start at the bottom and work their way through the leagues.

Supporters of NewCo FC observe that this course of action might presage financial disaster for those clubs (who NewCo’s supporters imaginatively characterise as Diddy Clubs) who would lose revenue both from the big games with NewCo FC (or Club 12) and reduced broadcasting revenue. But many Chairmen have publicly pledged that their decision will be governed by sporting integrity. When the vote comes they will be true to their word?

As all close fielders know, integrity can be a slippery concept, and the moral compass can waver – Chairmen may well find, come judgement day, that compassion is a virtue of a higher order. There is talk of restructuring the league so that NewCo FC don’t have so far to climb. They may well find that it will be wholly consistent with sporting integrity to ensure that the league has the highest level of competition possible, that the best players are seen by the highest number and so on. So the outcome is not certain.

For it is an endless challenge to philosophy to know how to behave virtuously. And one of the factors that intrigues FB is how supporters of NewCo assert they are being victimised by, well everyone, particularly in, as they say, the diddy clubs. In this attempt to assert that they are on the moral high ground, they forget that Rangers as was had a record of financial mismanagement that was capricious to say the least and may well be found to be criminal. This was someone else’s fault, apparently. Perhaps contrition and remorse on their part might assist their prospects of enlightened clemency – for as Cicero remarked virtue is its own reward. But then he also said, ‘Nothing is so strongly fortified that it cannot be taken by money.’ Moral philosophers should keep this issue in their sights.

Cicero’s writings are not noted for a highly developed analysis of sport. Scholars do not therefore know what view he took of underpants being put on show. But to preserve the integrity of football and the Euro championships, a player was severely punished for showing his pants. FB has no problem with that as such but the scale of his punishment 100,000 Euros would appear to make other offences in football of lesser significance – particularly racism. The Croatian FA were fined only 80,000 Euros for racist chanting at Mario Balotelli by their fans. What price integrity?

FB knows that cricket’s claims to present itself as a game of high integrity are questionable and his rose tinted spectacles are overly focussed on a nostalgic picture which may never have existed. Cricket has had to work hard to recover from the spot betting scandal. And still FB and his type believe. FB has written before of the moral quagmire that is walking or not walking. The issue arises again.

Fallen Idol
FB has long been an admirer of Ian Bell and was pleased that his merits as an opener in the ODI side were recognised and appeared to have been a master stroke by the selectors when he scored 126 in last Saturday’s match at Southampton. However in a subsequent interview with Vic Marks, FB was disappointed to see him say in relation to a big appeal made when he was on 23 that he felt a thin edge, only for the umpire to give him not out. 'I guess I was worried then,' he said – not 'I guess I was out' which is the correct deduction. What makes it worse is that Marks reports he said this with ‘engaging candour’. This is not good enough. If Bell had to say anything he should have said it with shame. He should surrender his match fee and the ill gotten runs removed from his record. Integrity, lost forever. Fallen idol.


  1. Cicero is clearly as relevant today as in his own time. Unfortunately any professional sport runs the risk of being tainted by financial considerations and some would argue that once participants are paid, the ethos of the game changes irrevocably. Cricket was for many years a semi-professional affair, with players pursuing other occupations during the off season. This changed overnight with the advent of World Series Cricket and the logical conclusion of this metamorphosis was the creation of the IPL, where players sell themselves to the highest bidder, as I understand it. With so much at stake, it is no surprise that Ian Bell and the SPL clubs are tempted to put money over sporting integrity. As FB points out, the really depressing thing is that they see nothing wrong in doing so.