Tennis Ethics

  • Watching a tennis match between two promising juniors, one an Australian and the other a New Zealander, earlier this year, I observed a very interesting incident.

    At matchpoint down in the second set, the Australian player clearly failed in an attempt to run down a drop volley from his opponent. Scooping the ball (which had clearly bounced twice) over his opponent's head, the Australian player continued to treat the point as if it were still "live".

    Meanwhile, the New Zealander, certain that the match was over, headed towards the net to shake his opponent's hand.

    With the exception of the umpire, everyone who was there, including the Australian player, knew that the ball had bounced twice. Despite a legitimate protest and an appeal to his opponent's honesty, the New Zealander "lost" the point, came very close to "losing" the set, and, I'm sure, would have found it extremely difficult to win the match had it gone to a third set.

    Had that been the case, had the Australian won the match, would it have been a case of dishonesty, not honesty, being the best policy? After all, when it comes to sport, isn't it a case of winning being everything, even if it involves cheating?

    And even if it isn't a case of either dishonesty being the best policy or of winning being everything, how do you explain to a young player who has just lost because of his opponent's dishonesty that honesty is the best policy, and that winning, if it requires cheating, (or even if it doesn't), ISN'T everything.

    Although others may disagree, it is my contention that any attempt to win by means of cheating automatically brands the cheat as the loser -- no matter what the outcome.

    Aside from the fact that any honest spectator can't help but lose all respect for a cheat, even more significantly, a cheat can't help but lose all respect for himself.

    No matter how hard he tries, he cannot escape the negative consequences of his dishonest actions. He cannot evade the fact that he has used deceit to gain something (a counterfeit win) that otherwise would not have been his.

    In so doing, he must live with the self-knowledge -- as well as the knowledge of any spectator -- that he has defaulted on the principle of honesty, and instead, become a cheat. He can never feel happy, in the true sense of the word, about his so-called win.

    Therefore, I would explain to any young tennis player who has just lost to a cheat, and who, as a consequence, mistakenly thinks that cheats do prosper, that nothing could be further from the truth.

    And to make my point, I would then ask him if he'd like to trade places, if only for a second, with someone who has a deserved reputation as a cheat, or if he would feel good about winning through cheating.

    Discussing sports ethics with children is extremely important for two reasons:

    The first is that sport provides them with one of the best opportunities to formulate the ethical principles which they can then apply in all spheres and stages of later life.

    The second is that sports cheats give the purity of healthy competition a bad name, and should, therefore, be roundly condemned.