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Written by: Foo Siew Jack

Ethics is defined as the set of moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the running of an activity. Unsportsmanlike conduct, similarly, is a term defined as an offence in sports that violates the sport’s generally accepted rules of sportsmanship and participant conduct. Throughout history, there have been instances when the behaviours of certain sportsmen and athletes have been questioned. This article serves to discuss ethics in the sporting context.

History often repeats itself, and the recent Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) UFC 229 bout between Irishman Conor McGregor and Russian Khabib Nurmagomedov is a testament to that. To date, it is the most recent major display of unsportsmanlike conduct at this time of writing. Basically, the very essence of the fight was a duel between a businessman/trashtalker and a patriot; one that talks the walk and the other that walks the talk.

Unfortunately, when the defeat came for McGregor, who previously admitted to Nurmagomedov in the end of the 3rd round that the trash-talking during the fight promotion events was “only business”, you can bet your house that Nurmagomedov was having none of that; especially since the Russian victor was consistently harassed and embarrassed by McGregor leading up to the fight at the T-Mobile Arena – insults on his religion, his family, his culture and his country that seemed like it was genuine which the Russian left bottled up until the opportunity arose where he exploded like a shaken can of soda.

As a result, he went on a rampage fueled by anger and an adrenaline dump after his victory by jumping out of the cage and attacking McGregor’s jiujitsu trainer (who had been insulting him as well). Not only did he live up to his moniker “The Eagle” by flying out of the cage, but he also received a heavy fine, suspension and a negative public image in the Western world for his unsportsmanlike conduct, while McGregor walked away the victim.

So, the question arises: Do two wrongs make a right? Surely, anyone would be outraged by insults at their family and religion but is it necessary to physically assault a person who was essentially a member of the public? Maybe. However, this is not the only case of its kind. Unsportsmanlike conduct has been prevalent since the invention of the telephone.

In the 1986 World Cup, Maradona of Argentina famously scored a goal at the 51st minute against England; a goal that propelled the country into winning its 2nd World Cup since 1978. Except the ball wasn’t kicked nor headed, but punched. In football, they call this a “hand-ball” – a red-card foul. Some could even say he single-handedly (pun intended) carried Argentina to sporting glory.

Even hockey grandpas have a story to tell, if they don’t get hit in the head by a hockey stick and possibly develop Alzheimer’s like what New York Islander’s Chris Simon did to New York Ranger’s Ryan Hollweg after he was smashed into the boards by the latter. Golf, on the other hand, is often portrayed as a gentlemanly and classy sport played by rich, preppy-looking Harvard graduates. This is not always the case, however, especially for 14-time Major winner Tiger Woods who was caught spitting into a hole at the 2011 Dubai Desert Classic after missing a put. Ultimately, these sportsmen eventually get a string of hefty suspensions and fines, which double as both a punishment as well as a powerful message to discourage other athletes from mirroring their fouls.

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Luckily, some have redeemed themselves and are actively giving back to society after acknowledging what they have done – though for some, it appears there will be no end to their rivalry. For Philadelphia 76er’s Charles Barkley, it was handing out free tickets to the little girl who unfortunately got the short end of the stick by getting spat on by accident as Barkley missed a shot at a racial-slur taunting New Jersey Nets fanboy.

Other than that, the most iconic display of unsportsmanlike conduct has got to be “Iron” Mike Tyson biting off a piece of Evander Holyfield’s right ear with his teeth, in retaliation for Holyfield constantly headbutting him, which went unnoticed by referee Mills Lane – several times. Despite the genuine hatred between the two men as boxers, they appear to be in good spirits with each other – likened to an old friend type of relationship instead of punch-you-in-the-liver sort of adversary. Contrastingly, we will probably never see McGregor and Nurmagomedov being friends, and the rivalry will continue for as long as they are still walking on two feet.

The take home message here is simple: Just don’t let a jerk get to you. Sometimes in sports or in daily life, it is tempting to lay hands on someone who is acting like a complete imbecile like there aren’t consequences to his/her actions. Though in most cases, karma does get the best of them as illustrated by the experiences of the elite sportsmen above.

All in all, athletes and sportsmen competing at the highest levels have expectations to uphold as they are often seen as role-models by young, aspiring athletes, so any foul behaviour and displays of unsportsmanlike conduct may eventually trickle down into the psyche of the youth populace to act in a similar fashion.

And that’s quite worrying.

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