The cost of a win: Morality in the World Cup

Soccer field

It is unfortunate that the excitement surrounding the World Cup has been dampened, by some, with a “win at all costs” attitude. Last week, Uruguay’s Luis Suárez bit into an opponent’s shoulder just moments before Suárez’s team scored the winning goal in their game against Italy. Suárez, who is known for biting on at least two other occasions, received no immediate penalty from referees, who apparently never noticed the bite.

Maybe a greater offense, though, came from Uruguay coach Óscar Tabárez during a post-game interview.

“This is a football World Cup, not about morality, cheap morality,” said Tabárez.

By that logic, there would be nothing wrong with fixed matches either, a concern that had been the subject of much discussion leading up to the World Cup.

The argument for the exclusion of morality quickly undermines itself, though. If morality is “cheap” and a win can be claimed at any cost, then what value does that “win” actually hold? Has any kind of superiority actually been proven if a game is won by methods outside the established rules of the game and a shared sense of acceptable behavior?

Contrast this attitude with a more prevalent call for unity associated with the games. Though one ultimate champion will hoist the trophy at the end of the tournament, the commonality of soccer as a sport should serve as a source of unity, not division.

“Sport has the power to bring people together from all walks of life,” wrote FIFA in a press release before the games began. “Through the popularity of football in particular, important values and messages of peace and equality can be spread and help make a difference in modern day society.”

In spite of any charges of corruption and cheating, there is one important truth about the World Cup: though its participants and fans support different countries, they come together, once every four years, around a common cause. This gathering of nations and people in the pursuit of excellence through sport breaks past barriers of languages and cultures and speaks to a greater commonality among athletes and people in general. Though they cheer for different teams, fans around the globe put aside all but their passion for the sport and are engaging with a tournament that becomes a common language. How the conversation ends – with or without an ideal of morals and respect – will be decided game by game.

We have even seen the power of the World Cup in not just bringing together the world around a common platform, but in offering a point of unity to countries who send teams to the tournament. Belgium, the United States’ opponent later today, has recently struggled through a divisive national election and sentiments that threaten to partition parts of the country. Rallying around the World Cup run has given supporters and players on the Belgian team a common cause around which to unite.

As the World Cup continues, we keep in mind the words of the late Nelson Mandela, whose attitude continues to inspire the Institute:

“Sport has the power to change the world,” said Mandela. “It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.”

Let’s hope that inspiration does take the spotlight. FIFA, it seems, is ready to back up its intent on sportsmanship and unity; the story did not end well for Luis Suárez, who FIFA unceremoniously dismissed from the World Cup and “all footballing activities” for at least four months.

We’re glad to see FIFA send the clear message that seeking a win at any cost is unacceptable. Morality in sport and in life is not “cheap” – it is a common ground that can break down barriers, hear past languages, and promote the betterment of societies and the intersections among them.

About Jeffrey B. Eisenberg, M.A. // Coordinator, New Media, Communications and Events, ISSCD

At Neumann, Jeff works to build the Institute’s communication strategy with a focus on developing valuable resources relevant to student-athletes, coaches, administrators, and all groups the Institute strives to reach. He also serves as a co-chaplain of the Neumann Cross Country and Track & Field teams. Jeff holds a B.A. and M.A. in Strategic Communication from Villanova University.

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