What’s more important: morality or success?

The leaking of information from the England rugby squad stating that senior players disputed the financial rewards from their disappointing show at the World Cup is an emphatically delivered blow in the collective coffin of the much-maligned squad.

Added to the dwarf-throwing scandal, lurid claims of harassment and the underlying theme of excessive alcohol consumption, the country is united in their disdain, anger and righteous indignation. But if we had reached the final, would we have brushed this recalcitrance under the carpet? Success and morality currently seem like opposing forces in sport.

Racism is the pernicious force currently pervading football, and it’s interesting to note the different outlook taken on the John Terry and Luis Suarez cases. Terry has been attacked from all angles and his admittedly pockmarked past used to incriminate him further, yet one salient point is that many journalists have impugned him for his poor recent form: he is no longer considered an indispensable figure on the football field, therefore emasculating him to the point where he is a national disgrace is an easier option.

Contrast this to the Wayne Bridge affair, when he remained England’s best defender and undoubted leader, officially or otherwise: and although we can moralise about the seriousness of adultery and racism, Terry was arguably let off the hook more easily than he should have done because of his importance to club and country.

Luis Suarez, indeed, is a case in point. He is accused of the same offence as Terry, yet his coruscating displays for Liverpool this season mean that he is unequivocally revered and praised: even if he is found guilty and his team-mates are uncomfortable at sharing the pitch with him, it is hardly likely that Kenny Dalglish will eschew his brilliance for the lumbering Andy Carroll. Tottenham’s manager Harry Redknapp will undergo a trial for tax evasion in January, and if found guilty, he will have the stain of fraudulent behaviour imprinted on his character.

Of course, he is the clear favourite for the England job, and it will be extremely interesting to see what the FA would do in this position: aside from him, the other English coaching options are Roy Hodgson and, perhaps, Alan Pardew, hardly considered the men to take the side forward. Would Redknapp be spurned, even if he is considered the man most suited to improving the fortunes of our inherently capricious national team? The FA will have to prioritise morality or success.

Of course, a lot of this is hypothetical, for verdicts are still to be fully reached in the Terry and Suarez affair, and Redknapp’s trial is a couple of months away. However, for an appropriate precedent, we can consider Jose Mourinho’s reign at Chelsea: it is mostly he who brought the name of the club into disrepute with his vicious attacks on Arsene Wenger and referee Anders Frisk – who retired as a result of the Portuguese’s antics – and frequently showed flagrant disrespect for his opponents.

Yet his name is still sung with regularity at Stamford Bridge due to the incredible success he provided long-deprived Blues fans with, and we often comment upon how much we want him managing in the Premier League again. We may collectively frown and shake our heads at his behaviour, but would we overlook this if he wanted to manage our club? Of course we would. Would a club less financially blessed than Manchester City have been more tolerant of Carlos Tevez? It’s a question worth asking.

Cricket, still considered in some forgiving quarters as the ‘gentleman’s game’, has taken the most intransigent stance on morality, jailing Pakistan captain Salman Butt for thirty months for his part in the biggest match-fixing scandal to hit the game, along with team-mates Mohammed Asif and Mohammed Aamer. Aamer, indeed, is a case in point: his age (just 19) carries with it a clear implication of malleability, yet he is not being exculpated in any shape or form, and some may say he will never play top-level cricket again.

Their deeply immoral behaviour leaves their hopes of rebuilding their reputation and experiencing sporting success in tatters – and there has been a lot of moralising in cricket circles due to the ugly stain the affair has left on the game. Yet until there is uniformity between sports – be it rugby, football or tennis – immorality will still be considered an abstract form which can be eradicated or reduced in significance due to sporting prowess. And that can’t be right.


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