Fair Play in Sport: A Moral Norm System

By Sigmund Loland | Go to book overview
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Chapter 3

Right sport competitions


Questions of fairness and justice arise regularly in sport as in other areas of life. Was this a fair competition? Did the football team deserve that goal? Did the better competitor win? Sometimes, we hear claims that the best team actually lost, that the game was unfair and that the loser was the 'moral' winner. What do we mean by such claims? How is fairness and justice in sport to be understood?

The fair play ideal is associated with ideas of justice. 'Formal fair play' prescribes keeping to the rules or, according to the understanding developed in Chapter 1, keeping to the socially shared interpretation of the rules in terms of the ethos of the sport in which we are engaged. But these ideas need elaboration and specification.

To do this, I first suggest an interpretation of the concept of 'right' in terms of ideas of 'fairness' and 'justice', then formulate a preliminary fairness norm. I shall proceed by relating the preliminary norm to sport and developing norms for just competitions. I conclude by formulating a complete fairness norm for sport competitions.


In contemporary philosophical literature, and in particular in Rawls (1971:11-17, 108-14, 342-50), fairness is understood as certain impartial procedures in dealing with questions of justice. As we have seen in Chapter 2, Rawls suggests the possibility that 'the original position', which is considered a paradigmatic example of fair circumstances, can serve as a source for deriving norms for the morally right in general. Ideas of the morally right include 'natural duties', such as norms for upholding justice, norms for non-injury and non-harm, and obligations such as that on fairness (Rawls 1971:113ff.).

Initially, Rawls characterizes the formal conditions for choosing morally right actions as conditions that are fair. Then he discusses a norm for fairness that is established under these conditions. How is this to be understood?


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