How ought we to act in sport competitions? The question can be answered in many ways. The gymnast who dismounts the parallel bars with a well-balanced somersault acts according to norms for good technique; the football player who executes a penetrating 40-metre pass has 'an eye for the game' and makes a tactically correct choice of move. But by which criteria do we evaluate good and appropriate technique and tactics? Responses usually refer to the standards of excellence in the sport in question. In gymnastics and football, advanced somersaults and killer passes respectively, belong to the relevant technical and tactical skills. But, for the philosophically inclined sport enthusiast, these questions can be pursued further. Why do we exercise technical and tactical skills in competitions at all? What are the meanings and values of these practices? And, even more fundamentally, what is the role, if any, of sport in the broader framework of human life?
This book examines sport as a possible arena for human flourishing. More precisely, it suggests a re-articulation of a classic ideal for sport competitions, fair play, and argues that the realization of this ideal can make such competitions morally justifiable and indeed valuable activities in the broader perspective of human life. The claim is not that sport is a necessary part of human flourishing, but rather that, if practised according to fair play, sport can be one among the many activities that could contribute to such flourishing. What follows is an introductory outline of the argument.
Chapter 1, Sport competitions: rules, goals and social logic, performs the analytical task of presenting key terms in the argument and explaining how they are to be understood. Sport competitions are seen as social practices within which it is possible to identify what can be called structural, intentional, and moral goals. The structural goal of sport competitions is to measure, compare and rank competitors according to athletic performance. Individuals' intentional goals reflect individuals' reasons for engaging in sport and are, therefore, of a great variety. Finally, the moral goal of competitions is precisely what the rest of this book will attempt to articulate and justify.
I then give an overview of the historical roots and current understandings of what is traditionally seen as a moral goal for sport: fair play. The ideal is