Athletes are bound by multiple codes – including the formal rules of the games they play and the informal conventions that define what is deemed to be acceptable conduct.

Professional athletes are often bound by a more stringent code that governs many aspects of their public and private lives.  In an era of social media and phone cameras, lucrative sponsorships and media rights, online sports betting and performance enhancing drugs, there is very little that isn’t regulated, measured or scrutinised.

The culture of sport

The formal rules of any game establish the minimum standards that bind players and officials equally in order to ensure a fair contest. Not surprisingly, the formal rules are relative to the sports that they define: you can tackle someone to the ground in a rugby match (provided they’re holding the ball), but it would be deemed unacceptable in tennis.

But there are also conventions and informal obligations that define the culture of sport. For example, most sports establish informal boundaries that seek to capture a spirit of good sportsmanship.  The cricketer who refuses to “walk” after losing their wicket  – or who delivers a ball under-arm – may not be breaking any formal rule, but they’ll be offending the so-called spirit of cricket.

The sanctions for such an offence may be informal, but may blight that player’s career.


A question of trust

In sport, the bottom line is trust. Sportspeople are stewards for the games they play – with an obligation not to destroy the integrity of the sports in which they participate. Athletes tend to be intensely competitive, seeking victory for themselves, for their team or sometimes their nation.

Professional sports sell themselves to the public on the basis that the contests are real and, hopefully, fair. Every time two teams or competitors walk out onto the field of play, they place so much at stake – far more than just the result of one game.

That is why evidence of match fixing, doping or cheating is so destructive – it destroys public trust in the veracity of the competition that people pay to watch. It damages the reputation of the sport. And it is ultimately self-defeating – always leaving doubt in the dishonest victor’s mind, denying forever the satisfaction of a honest win.