To understand the role ethics plays in sport and competition, it’s important to make a distinction between gamesmanship and sportsmanship. Gamesmanship is based on the principle that winning is “everything”…that athletes and coaches should bend the rules wherever possible in order to gain a competitive advantage over an opponent.  

Some of the key tenants of gamesmanship are:

  • Winning is everything
  • It's only cheating if you get caught
  • It’s the official’s job to catch wrongdoing
  • Athletes and coaches have no inherent responsibility to follow the rules
  • The end always justify the means

Some examples of gamesmanship are:

  • Faking a foul or injury
  • Attempting to get a head start in a race
  • Tampering with equipment, such as corking a baseball bat in order to hit the ball farther
  • Covert personal fouls, such as grabbing a player underwater during a water polo match
  • Inflicting pain on an opponent with the intention of knocking him or her out of the game
  • The use of performance-enhancing drugs
  • Taunting or intimidating an opponent
  • Lying about an athlete's grades in order to maintain eligibility

These examples place greater emphasis on the outcome of a game than on the manner in which it is played.  A more ethical approach to athletics is the concept of sportsmanship.  Under a sportsmanship model, healthy competition is seen as a means of cultivating personal honor, virtue, and character. The goal of sportsmanship is not simply to win, but to pursue victory with honor.