fair play

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An ethos emanating from the cult of team games and athleticism in the British public schools and the universities, often evoking a sense of moral superiority. Tony Mason writes that ‘the dominant sporting ideology in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods, perhaps 1870–1914, was that of fair play and the joy of taking part’ (Sport in Britain, 1988). Its influence was long-lasting, and J. A. Mangan quotes Sir Thomas Cook, author of Character and Sportsmanship (1927), on the link between an enthusiasm for games and a sense of Anglo-Saxon superiority: ‘We must be worthy of our heritage. We shall keep it by that sense of fair-play which is bred in our bones and courses through our blood, which makes a boy play the game’ (cited in Athleticism in the Victorian and Edwardian Public School: The Emergence and Consolidation of an Educational Ideology, 1981). In 1928, a German author, Rudolph Kercher, published his Fair Play, equating the Anglo-Saxon way of playing games with the principles of honour, dignity, and respect for the rules. In 1976, the International Council of Sport and Physical Education, along with the International Olympic Committee, and supported by UNESCO, produced a Declaration on Fair Play, emphasizing that sport's contribution to the quality of life and to ‘the accomplishment of man’ was only possible ‘if it is practiced in full accordance with the ideals of fair play’.

As an ethical code, fair play may have been challenged by win-at-all-costs approaches to sporting competition, but it has continued to attract adherents. A fair play award committee was established in Paris in 1963 to make Pierre de Coubertin Awards to the most deserving athletes and publics; this committee or bureau was formalized as the International Fair Play Committee in 1973, dedicated to the ‘world-wide defence and promotion of fair play’. International sporting bodies and national sporting associations continue to make much of the fair play ethos, also establishing fair play awards to counter the excesses of gamesmanship and cheating. See also sportsmanship.

Subjects: Sport and Leisure.

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