John Carruthers: ‘Sportsmanlike dumping’

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 In law, in most cases, guilt or innocence is not determined by motive. If one breaks the law, motive may be taken into account at sentencing, but not in determining the verdict. Part of the reason for this is the difficulty in assessing motive, but the major part of it is that it is an action that is deemed illegal, not a motive. For example, armed robbery is not excused because of the need for money, however dire that may be. Nevertheless, we are asked to believe by the proponents of ‘sportsmanlike dumping’ (as if there could ever be such a thing) that motive is paramount.

 They argue that a team is within its rights (even compelled) to dump a match if it advances the team’s chances to win the event. In this instance, dumping is the action, and improving one’s chances of winning the event is the motive.

Two questions arise: (1.) Is dumping ‘sportsmanlike’ in other circumstances? (2.) Can motive be determined with certainty?

Let’s examine other potential motives for dumping. A couple of these may be: (a.) improving someone else’s chances of qualifying for or winning some event; (b.) personal financial gain; (c.) advancing one’s career. For example, a sponsor agrees to hire you if you dump a match to him. Are any of these motives acceptable? We think (hope) that the proponents of sportmanlike dumping would all agree that motives such as financial, professional or fraternal gain are not acceptable reasons for dumping a match. Then why should it be acceptable to dump a match for some other reason, say, an increased chance for your team to win an event? Is that motive somehow more noble than these others? And what if your chances were improved by losing some match AND someone offered you cash to lose that match?

We have no quarrel at all with the argument that the organisers of events must be convinced to frame their conditions of contest to prevent dumping. Awarding advantages to the higher finishers in round-robin events (such as the right to choose opponents, carry-forward, etc.) are an attempt to do this. Another, perhaps less-effective attempt, is writing anti-dumping regulations into the conditions of contest. Are those sufficient to prevent the practice?

There is another set of players and pundits who claim that it is always sportsmanlike to follow the rules. The set of those with this belief intersects the set of those who also believe in sportsmanlike dumping, though probably not precisely. However, what if (a.) the rules prohibit dumping in any context, and (b.) a round-robin format with poorlydesigned conditions of contest means that the possibility of its happening is real?

Suppose, for example, toward the end of a round robin contest, Team A can prevent Team B, its primary opponent, from qualifying by losing to Team C? It would improve its chances of winning by dumping to Team C, but dumping is prohibited by the rules. What should Team A do then? Follow the rules, or dump? We know that sports teams commonly dump to improve their chances (the FIFA World Cup and National Football League are rife with examples) and bridge teams have been suspected of doing so in the past. In the sporting arena, dumping is never admitted, and nothing is ever done after the fact – it’s too difficult to prove, and damages the image of the game. In bridge, the act of framing the conditions of contest to prevent dumping means that there is a belief that dumping is, at the least, improper.

 So let’s come out and say it, dumping is wrong, regardless of the motive. And let’s not try to couch it in terms of trying to make the authorities write their conditions of contest better. We might believe a law to be wrong, but we don’t imprudently break that law as a means to get it changed or, if even we do so, call it ‘sportsmanlike lawbreaking’.

John Carruthers

(IBPA Bulletin No 566  – March 2012)

March 12, 2012

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