Fair or foul... A sporting lecture at the University of Gloucestershire

Sports Journalism Course Leader Tom Bradshaw

Sports Journalism Course Leader Tom Bradshaw - Credit: Archant

From grass roots players to those at the top of their game, the penalty for cheating is a risk some are willing to take. And the good, the bad and the ugly sides of sport are up for debate at the latest in a series of free public lectures at the University of Gloucestershire.

Be it fair play or foul, it’s often said that cheats never prosper.

And the heroes and villains of sporting life will be in the spotlight for a public lecture at the University of Gloucestershire, debating topics from high profile corruption in sports governance to individual examples of cheating.

Hosted by the university’s Director of Sport Dr Andy Pitchford, three fellow academics will be exploring why cheating matters at Heroes and Villains: why do we care about foul play in sport?

The free event at The Park campus, Cheltenham, is on January 27. Dr Emily Ryall, Senior Lecturer in the Philosophy of Sport, Dr Abbe Brady, Course Leader for Professional Doctorate in Sport and Exercise and MSc Sports Coaching, and Sports Journalism course leader, Tom Bradshaw, will all be taking centre stage.

Dr Ryall, who has appeared on national, local and international media including BBC News 24 and BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, said: “This is a great opportunity for members of the public to hear and participate in an expert led discussion on a perennial ethical issue that is at the heart of sport. I’ll be looking at it from a philosophical perspective in articulating what constitutes cheating (as opposed to gamesmanship and spoiling) and how it undermines the concept of good sport.”

For award-winning sports journalist Tom Bradshaw, works for a range of publications including The Times and the BBC, it’s a matter of perspective. “The media are often accused of ‘building people up and then knocking them down’”, he said. “Arguably, this applies to sport more than any other area of journalism, where there seems to be an enduring thirst for scapegoats and heroes, both from editors and audiences. But the media has a big responsibility here. Through the use of morally-loaded vocabulary, sports journalists can often look like they are rushing to judgement against sportspeople - not only judging their performance, but their character too.”

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Dr Abbe Brady has presented at conferences around the world and has first-hand experience of working with athletes from all walks of sporting life. “Over the past 15 years I’ve worked with amateur and professional coaches, teams, individual athletes, and parents to design sports programmes and support through sport psychology, from grassroots to Paralympic and Olympic standards.”

So should we care about cheating in sport? Dr Ryall certainly thinks so. “Those that cheat in sport are undermining the very nature of the game which is based upon an acceptance of trivial and unnecessary obstacles to reach a goal,” she said. But, she adds, it’s important to make a distinction between professional sport, and to win at all costs, and amateur ideals where people participating for many other reasons.

“When the motivation to cheat is greater than the motivation to play fairly, as it is in elite and professional sport due to the extrinsic rewards (such as money, adulation and fame) then cheating will always occur.”

And how the highs and lows of sport are played out in the media can skew our own moral compass.

Tom added: “The coverage of British tennis player Tim Henman - a lot of which called into question his strength of character - was a good example of how an athlete can be judged by the media. Sometimes that’s clearly unfair, but what about when an athlete has clearly broken the laws of the game? What kind of language and criticism is it right for journalists to use in those cases? Sometimes the media appears to act as judge, jury and executioner, and I’m looking forward to discussing the rights and wrongs of this at the public debate.”

To book a free place at the lecture, which starts at 6pm and includes refreshments at 5pm, please visit http://bit.ly/1OSSvne