I spoke with Michel Martin of NPR’s All Things Considered about the ethics of the USA’s 13-0 victory over Thailand at the Women’s World Cup. There was a bit of controversy over the USA ‘running up the score’ as well as celebrating each goal. I defend the US team on both counts, and argue that neither the scoring nor celebrating was disrespectful to Thailand.
Category Archives: World Cup
The Olympics start up in a few weeks and there is a very real chance that the entire Russian Olympic team will be banned because of doping allegations. The Track and Field team is already banned from Rio, but with the mounting evidence of a state-sponsored doping program in Russia, the IOC is considering banning the entire Russian delegation.
The allegations are serious. There appears to be substantial evidence that this was not merely the work of a few lone individuals working to circumvent the anti-doping rules, but that this was an orchestrated program involving government officials and agents, including the FSB, and a large number of athletes, coaches, and trainers throughout Russian sport establishment.
An Olympic ban for the entire delegation is also quite serious. Such a move would be unprecedented in the modern history of the games. It would send shockwaves through the Olympic movement and throughout Russia.
The full ban is also quite the moral quandary. It’s a conflict of two important aspects of justice: never harm an innocent and always punish the guilty.
Banning the entire delegation means that many Russian athletes with no involvement in the doping program will not be allowed to compete and fulfill their life’s dream and work. For many, Rio is their only Olympic opportunity. The ban would be inflicting a harm on these innocent athletes.
Allowing the Russian delegation, however, suggests that nations (if they are powerful enough) can get away with bypassing the anti-doping rules with little consequence. If the reports and allegations are true, then a large number of the doping Russian athletes would still be competing in Rio. It seems to allow the guilty to get away with, even profit from, their wrongdoing.
While I can imagine scenarios where collective punishments are the only or all things considered best option, prima facie they are unjust because (1) they minimize individual responsibility and (2) they sweep in innocents and punish the undeserving. In a conflict between harming innocents and letting the guilty go free, it is better to err on the side of letting the guilty go free. The harm done to an innocent person can never fully be repaired or restored. Furthermore, you will likely have an opportunity in the future to get the guilty person.
For this reason, I think it would be wrong for the IOC to flat out ban all Russians from competing in Rio. One compromise position might have been to retest Russian athletes and only allow those who pass the tests to compete. Unfortunately, there probably isn’t time for that. A second compromise position, one more feasible, is to ban any one—coach, athlete, official, etc., implicated in the investigations, but allow the others to compete. This appears to be the current status of things unless the IOC decides to go the route of the collective ban.
The flat out full ban on Russian athletes would harm the athletes and the spectators the most. The athletes might have had little choice in being part of the doping program and the spectators had no role. Moreover, the full ban wouldn’t really hit the government officials and leaders who orchestrated the doping program. A punishment that might, however, would be to pull all major sporting events from Russia. The IOC statement on July 19, 2016 already called for this. If major events, like world championships, qualifying events, or even the World Cup, where pulled from Russia, that would be a significant blow to Russia prestige. Since the whole doping program came into being to increase Russia prestige, this punishment fits the ‘crime’ better. It also wouldn’t harm clean Russian athletes who would still be able to compete in such events.
So after the IOC makes its decision about the Russians in Rio, the pressure will shift to FIFA and the possibility of pulling the World Cup.
In the wake of the devastating shellacking of Brazil at the feet of German side, we saw hundreds, if not thousands, of pictures of crying and tearful Brazilians. Many sports fan empathized with these pictures. Part of being a fan is suffering through bad losses. Every true sports fan has been on the losing side at one time or another. We know how those Brazilian fans felt.
Others raised the ridiculousness of crying over a game, especially a game one didn’t even participate in. It is one thing if you played in a game, gave your proverbial all, and then were overcome with emotion (such as Columbia’s James Rodriguez). But for fans in the stands or out on street to cry strikes many as silly. Something must be really out of whack.
There are really two questions here. One: is crying an appropriate emotional response to a sporting event? Two: is it appropriate to have one’s identity so connected to a sporting event/team?
The second question arises because of what I think the correct answer is to the first question. Sports fan invest a lot of themselves into their teams. This is not just a financial thing (tickets, merchandise, etc.), but a connection to one’s identity. For a die-hard sports fans, the game isn’t something we watch as entertainment the way one might watch and be fans of Games of Thrones(*). One’s sense of self: who they are, where they are from, what they value; is wrapped up in their sports fandom. Fandom is a mode of self-expression. To say one is a Boston Red Sox fan tells the world a little something about who one is.
It is apt that sports fans speak of having their hearts broken by their teams: there is something analogous between close personal relationships and sports fandom. The relationship takes time to build and develop. Whatever you think about ‘love at first sight’, the relationship – its meaning and role in one’s life—takes time. And one doesn’t just become a Red Sox fan. You have to grow into it; you have to earn the ability to say you are a true fan. (Side note: this is why I don’t call myself a Liverpool fan. I follow them. I root for them. But I haven’t earned the title of fan yet. To stretch the analogy here: we are dating and having fun; seeing where it might go.)
Much more could and needs to be said about the connections between identity and fandom. However, if we can see that many die-hard sports fans, like many Brazilian futbol fans, have a deep identity connection to their team, it makes sense that such a devastation loss (especially in a World Cup on your home soil where you were one of the favorites to win) would lead to tears.
This is where the second question comes in to play. Is it rational or moral to have one’s identity so profoundly connected to a sports team?
My short answer is yes. While, as with anything, one can go too far here, by and large, I think deep fandom is a healthy and fun way of being one’s self. The longer answer still needs to be worked out and developed but let me suggest a few points.
The fun part is mostly self-explanatory. It provides moments of joy and excitement. Still, there are times that it doesn’t feel very fun (that’s what all the crying is about after all). But, overall, in the bigger picture of a being a fan, it is fun and thrilling.
Sports Fandom is also by and large healthy. Fandom is an expression of choice and commitment. It is part of a process of self-definition. We define ourselves by the choices and commitments we make and this includes which sports and teams we choose to follow.
Fandom ties one into a community, providing feelings of connectedness to a region, city, or tradition. It is a way of being with others and sharing values with others.
Being a fan of a sport team or club is better than something more insidious like seeking the sense of community from a gang or looking for greatness in pushes for national conquests. Better that nationalism gets expressed in a sporting event than in geo-politics. The former might unfortunately lead to some fist fights in the stands, but the latter leads to wars.
Go ahead and cry Brazil. Let it all out.
(*)Update clarification: I don’t mean to imply or suggest that non-sport fandoms can’t or don’t invest part of their identity in their fandom. (As a Browncoat I wouldn’t want to make that mistake.) I only mean to say that sports fandom is not just about entertainment. I am not trying to say anything about other kinds of fandoms.