Module 1 - Intentional Rule-Breaking and Fair-Play in Sports

  • Saturday, 25 November 2017 18:12
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Title of the module: 

Intentional Rule-Breaking and Fair-Play in Sports  

Module objective(s): 

The objective of the module is to introduce the notions of fair-play, sportsmanship, fairness, integrity and rules in a way to strengthen the understanding of fair-play in sports and all the dimensions that it encompasses.

Other objectives include: being able to recognize different kinds of behaviour in sport games and to relate this recognition with the notions of fair-play and (un)intentional rule-breaking in sport; gain an ability to differentiate between unfair (wrong) and fair (right or good) behaviour in sports; to gain an understanding the negative impact of unfair practices (cheating, gaining unfair advantage, misuse of the rules, etc.), being able to reflect and understand the difference between intentional and unintentional rule breaking in sports, gaining awareness about the importance of rules in sports and good sportsmanship, gaining awareness of why we need fairness and good sportsmanship despite (or in addition to) rules in sports and also to relate aspects of fair play to other issues in the ethics of sports.  

Key learning outcomes/learning challenges/learning problems  Learning outcome 1: to know and understand the difference between fail-play and foul-play

At the 1964 Innsbruck Olympic Winter Games in two-man bobsleigh final competition Eugenio Monti, Italian competitor ran an excellent time that was going to be very hard to beat. Leader of the British team, Tony Nash was among the favourites and could have well beaten that time, but just before the race, a particular part if his sledge was broken. After finding this out Monti quickly detached that part from his own sledge and without hesitation ran to give it to Nash so that he could compete. Nash fixed the sledge, made an excellent run and went on to win the gold medal. Monti later simply commented “Nash didn't win because I gave him the bolt. He won because he had the fastest run.” For these acts of fair-play and sportsmanship, he was awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal - Fair Play Trophy.  

Eugenio Monti

One of the simplest definitions of fair-play and good sportsmanship (or sport spirit) is that it encompasses following the rules of the game and competition, showing respect for others (other players, competitors, referees, officials, spectators, etc.) and for oneself, building team spirit and cooperation, being courteous and gracious in victory and in defeat and, lastly, having fun and enjoying sports (UNESCO). Fair-play is thus a very broad concept and is highly interconnected with the general values in/of sports such as fairness, respect, teambuilding, equality, discipline, inclusion, and perseverance.

In order for students to build awareness about the importance of fair-play, it is important not only to present them with the notion of fair-play in sports, or offer them examples of fair-play but to include their experience, which means that teachers must utilize experiential and active learning. This will also enable that students then transfer fair-play, fairness and other values in sports from the classroom or gym, to school life in general and into their communities and society in general.

One way that physical education teachers can stimulate the learning process and engage students from experience is to devise a sports game (or a variation of the existing game), for which the rules are unfair, or the roles of the players are such that they are in opposition to fair-play, or the implementation is unfair (see such examples of two such games in the worksheets attached to this module).

After engaging in such sports activities and experiencing the unfairness it is best to engage students in discussion while the experience is still close to their mind. Here we can open several interesting questions (e.g. How was it playing a sports game that is fundamentally unfair? How was it if you won due to this unfairness? Is winning the only goal in sports? How was it if you lose? What are the dynamics that occur in an unfair game, i.e. how does them the team function as a team? What is the best way to prevent unfair-play and how to sanction the cheaters? What is the difference between intentional in unintentional rule breaking? How should we penalize those that break the rules? Are referees above rules? Is it possible to always and fully play by the rules? Is basic fairness and fair-play important or can everything be ordered by the rules? Is there a sport where fair-play is not important at all?)

Also, including into the discussion cases from professional sport is also a viable option, but be careful that you do not just enter into a divisive discussion about which teams or players to favour etc. Make sure that you always refer to their concrete experience and to their concrete lives and engage them in discussion haw they can make the value of fair-play part of their everyday life. Teachers of sports education can coordinate their efforts with teachers of other subjects as well to join it or share the learning activity.

Another idea is to include fair-play recognition award or similar mechanism into sports education at your school so that it becomes an integral part of the school ethos and extent in also to other domains of school life beyond sports education.  

* learning outcome 2: to know and understand the importance of fair judgment in sports (players, referees) in relation to rules and in the context of winning/losing (what does it mean “to play by the (same) rules”)

Fair-play includes not only the conduct of the competitors in sports but also extends to referees, which are the ones that usually implement the rules. This opens up a good opportunity for learning and engaging students in activities.

Again, one of the best ways way to stimulate the learning process is for students to experience themselves the role of the referees. One learning activity that you can devise is to let the students to take the role of the referees in a different sports game and then let the participant in the game evaluate them and provide feedback (e.g. Did they perceive the referee as fair or competent? What decision would they change? etc.) The roles should then be switched.

Another variation of the same activity goes a step further. Teachers can divide students into groups and ask them to devise new rules for existing sports games. They can set their own aim in doing so (e.g. making the game more simple or fairer, making the job of the referees less demanding, increasing the role of the referees, etc.). In the next step, they should play out these games and try them out. This step should always be followed with a short reflection on how did thing go (for players, for referees, for spectators).

To take it even a step further teachers can incentivize students to devise the rules for a new sport game. Again, you should give students the freedom to work as they wish and set goals for themselves. In this way, we combine ethics and ethical education with creative thinking. In the next steps provide students with the opportunity to play these sports games that they have invented. In intermediate reflection and discussion could be focused on questions like was it easy to think of an entirely new sport game? Did things go as planned when you played it? Was it easy to understand and follow rules? Then they should have the time to make changes and improve their ideas for the games and shape them into their final form. They should also name their games and write down the rules and aims of the play in a clear matter so that these descriptions can be used also by others. Teachers should then include these games into sports education when possible and in this way recognize and give credit to students.

Possible additional learning outcomes  Some additional learning outcome of the module will be that students can state the role and the importance of rules in sports, they will be able to point to examples of foul-play sports behaviours (also form the history of sports) and the ones that are not in line with fair-play, they will gain knowledge and understanding of key values of competitive sports and how to be a “good and fair” competitor.
How to learn and work with this module –specific instructions that teachers and students may require and which relate to the whole module, including specific references to the cross-curricular approach: 

The topics of fair-play (and fairness in general) and the importance of rules can be addressed within a number of other school subject and also interconnect them tightly between each other.

As part of lessons in history, teachers can provide examples of fair-play in sports from history, situate them into a wider historical context and discuss them with students. This could also be a platform for discussion on questions like: Did the concept of fair-play change during history? Are there some special characteristics of fair play as related to modern professional sports? Can fair-play be used in some other social and historical phenomena or is it related only to sports? Is chivalry related to fair-play? Are there examples from sports that actions of sportsmen and sportswomen affected wider society and social justice (e.g. in overcoming racism and similar phenomena)? Who are the proper role-models from sports?

As part of the sociology or social sciences, teachers can address the issue of fair-play in relation to fairness in different social contexts, and also interrelate them with other topics from the ethics of sports such as gender equality, transgender competitions in professional sports, sport and social justice, etc. Another topic that can be addressed in the classroom is the problem of rules and regulations? Which human activities are regulated by rules and which kinds of rules we know (laws, social rules, etiquette, moral rules)? Who interprets the rules? Is fair-play applicable to these rules also? Can everything be resolved with rules and regulations, or do we also have to have personal virtues and be fair in order for such social systems to function? etc.

As part of philosophy (or ethics) teachers can address the topics of interrelation between fair-play and justice? What is just and what is just? Are sports competitions just or only fair? Why (or should) winners receive more than losers? Can any competition be just? What did philosophers like Plato and Aristotle think about justice? Are their theories also applicable to modern society or even modern sports? Can we use sports to discuss justice in general? Teachers can also extend these discussion activities into action, e.g. by using sport as a vehicle for social justice and change schools and communities for the better.  

Key educational content / subject areas associated with the modules: 

• justice, fairness and fair play/foul play

• ethical dilemmas in sports connected to fairness

• principles and rules: types of rules and conduct in accordance with rules

• judgment, decision-making and authority

• cheating

• role models in sports

• sanctioning of unethical behaviour in sports 

Further details of the key educational content that will be covered and that contribute to the delivery of the modules, including  
(i) Brief reference to the most effective methods or modes of learning: 

• experiential learning: learning through action/practice by doing

• Socratic dialogue and discussion groups

• using moral dilemmas, stories and storytelling form the history of sports

• role-playing and active learning 

(ii) Brief reference to the modes of assessing secondary school students (in relation to the learning outcomes): 

Informal and individualized assessment methods such as:

• anecdotal record,

• rating scales for behaviour,

• event sampling,

• self-reflection,

• sports diary,

• probing in discussion.  

(iii) Bibliography/resources: 


• Morgan, William. 2017. Ethics in Sport, 3rd Edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

• Simon, Robert L., Torres, Cesar R. and Hager, Peter F. 2014. Fair Play: The Ethics of Sport 4th Edition. New York: Routledge.

• Simon, Robert L. 2016. The Ethics of Sports. What Everybody Needs to Know. New York: Oxford University Press.

• Renson, Ronald. 2009. Fair Play: Its Origins and Meanings in Sport and Society. Kinesiology 41,


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