Sigmund Loland on ethics in sports

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Kutte Jönsson
Department of Sport Sciences, Malmö University


Sigmund Loland
Idrettsetikk: 3. utgave
120 sidor, hft., ill
Bergen: Fagbokforlaget 2023
ISBN 978-82-450-4587-1

Sometimes it happens that morality in sports is questioned. It’s no wonder. The list of morally questionable, or downright immoral, behaviors and events that take place in sport could in theory be endless. However, this does not mean that there is a problem with moral principles, but rather that they are not sufficiently observed. I would think that is the most common opinion. Because sport – we’re told – rests on a solid moral foundation. If it is corrupted, it is a shortcoming of the people in the sport.

At least that’s how it usually sounds when, for example, athletes use forbidden methods and preparations to gain (unjustified) advantages and thus undermine the very conditions for fair competitions; or when children and young people are subjected to severe pressure to perform, not necessarily for their own sake but for the sake of others, with the consequence that their lives are broken down; or when normal decency is set aside in favor of interests that do not always have to do with sport, but more to do with political and economic interests. And so on. As I said: the list could be endless.

Everyone who is active in sports, or has an interest in sports and the values that exist in sports, is constantly forced to relate to moral issues. Therefore, it is also important to continue talking about such issues.

Cheating, violations of fair play, violence and lack of trust are part of the human experience. But so is the ability and ambition to want to do the right thing, even though there may also be different perceptions of what is right (and wrong). Basically, sports ethics is about how we should behave towards each other in sporting contexts.

And to guide further reflection, there are review questions for each chapter, as an invitation to turn one’s gaze inwards, towards one’s own (moral) subject, in order to seek answers to the rather complicated questions that sports philosophy raises

Now that Sigmund Loland, internationally recognized sports philosopher at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences and one of the most respected in the field, is publishing the third edition of his book Idrettsetik [Sports Ethics], it is welcome. The first edition was published in 2002 with an updated version in 2015. The latest edition was published last year, and it is also an updated version of the first two. Because the world is dynamic, and so is the world of sports. This requires new texts. For example, the latest edition has been expanded with texts about the view of nature and the issue of sustainability in sports. These perspectives are not only current but have become acute in light of the ongoing climate crisis. Today we know that the climate issue is an existential issue, yet it has long been treated as less important, not least in sports.

However, this is not the only question that is dealt with in the book. Other sports ethics issues are also examined. And even though the book only comprises 120 pages, Loland covers many issues. But above all, he invites us reader for our own reflections. And to guide further reflection, there are review questions for each chapter, as an invitation to turn one’s gaze inwards, towards one’s own (moral) subject, in order to seek answers to the rather complicated questions that sports philosophy raises. In other words, it is a book that can be used to advantage not only in teaching but also in sports clubs or wherever sports take place and where people meet.

Because morality still plays a role in sport. Admittedly, it happens that people doubt that. Sometimes you can hear resigned voices saying that morality has played its part, that sport is now mostly about exploiting people’s dreams and feelings for economic or political gain. I don’t think that’s true, not if you look at the strong reactions that are expressed when violations of what one perceives as good morals are exposed. Look, for example, at the protests that take place when people who do not want to play a fair game instead use sport solely as a means to enrich themselves or to gain other benefits at the expense of others. Every protest can be seen as a defense of a view of sport built on moral thinking and ethical principles. Ultimately, it is a matter of preserving basic human decency, even when it comes to sport and even if much is at stake.

Therefore, it will also be important to continue talking about morality in sport. Sigmund Loland is an excellent interlocutor and cicerone for the necessary discussions that need to be held constantly. He shows this with distinction in Idrettsetik.

Copyright © Kutte Jönsson 2024


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