Looking for ethical behavior at the Olympics


Interesting article in The Wall Street Journal: Barry Newman, “Another Daunting Olympic Quest: The Search for Gallant Behavior” (Aug. 15, 2008) (paid subscription required; you might have better luck with this link or this one (may be good for another 7 days)).

Sunil Sabharwal from the International Fair Play Committee (whose website seems to be a tad out of date) is on the prowl in Beijing, looking for examples of good sportsmanship. The article’s lead pretty well sums up the situation:

In a cheat-plagued sports world, the International Fair Play Committee wants you to keep a sharp eye out for a type of behavior at the Olympics that’s harder than ever to detect: athletes willingly giving up a chance to win in order to stop another athlete from, say, drowning.

The examples cited in the article — a fencer who calls a hit on herself before the judges call it, rather than waiting in the hope they missed it; another fencer who wins on a technicality, voluntarily accedes to a replay, and loses; the cyclist who gave up the lead to help another cyclist who’d veered off the course and crashed into a tree — aren’t simply examples of sportsmanlike behavior, any more than Miss Manners’ column is only about etiquette. This is about ethics. (As substantiation for my claim about Miss Manners, see the book based on her John M. Olin Distinguished Lecture at Harvard, “Common Courtesy: In Which Miss Manners Solves the Problem That Baffled Mr. Jefferson.”)

High on my list from this year’s Olympics: Dara Torres, the 41-year-old U.S. swimmer. In one of her qualifying races, the Australian swimmer in her heat had an equipment malfunction (a tear in her Speedo). The race officials were under no obligation to delay the race for that reason. Ms. Torres alerted the other racers and the presiding official and lobbied successfully for a delay in order to give the Australian racer a chance to repair or switch suits and compete. To quote one of the athletes in the Wall Street Journal, that wasn’t just the nice thing to do, it was the right thing to do.

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