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Rules, Fairness, And The Apparent Duty To Entertain In Professional
Commodified Sport
Article  in  Sport Ethics and Philosophy · December 2010
DOI: 10.1080/17511321.2010.531913
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Olympic Doping,Transparency,and the Therapeutic Exemption Process View project
Michael John McNamee
KU Leuven
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ISSN: 1751-1321 (Print) 1751-133X (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rsep20
Rules, Fairness, And The Apparent Duty To
Entertain In Professional Commodified Sport
Mike McNamee
To cite this article: Mike McNamee (2010) Rules, Fairness, And The Apparent Duty To Entertain
In Professional Commodified Sport, , 4:3, 235-238, DOI: 10.1080/17511321.2010.531913
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/17511321.2010.531913
Published online: 02 Dec 2010.
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Editorial
RULES, FAIRNESS, AND THE APPARENT
DUTY TO ENTERTAIN IN PROFESSIONAL
COMMODIFIED SPORT
Mike McNamee
Of the many areas of sports that are ripe for philosophical investigation, the ethics of
officiating is high up on the list. Some excellent scholarship already exists inspired by the
philosophy of rules, after Wittgenstein (McFee 2004) and after Dworkin (McFee 2000;
Russell 1999), but there is no sustained treatment of the philosophy or ethics of officiating.
I once heard a casual remark by the British philosopher of education, Richard Smith, that
good football (soccer) refereeing was a demonstration of phronesis par excellence. I have
long wanted to comment on that perceptive remark and the recent football (I shall write
‘soccer’ no more henceforward) 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa has occasioned a
word or two on it.
This summer should have offered football aficionados their quadrennial treat. Sadly,
at least from my perspective, it was something of an anticlimax. The opening rounds were
often mismatches or triumphs of smaller nations who employed dull but effective
strategies to nullify higher-ranked opponents either by drawing or occasionally winning
(the eventual winners, Spain, lost their first game to Switzerland). Moreover, in many
respects it offered reincarnations of football stereotypes (the South Americans displayed
glimpses of sublime skill, the Germans were strategically sound and superbly organised;
the English were over-hyped; and so on). The final, however, offered the promise of
something at least a little more satisfying to the educated football palate: it was to be
contested by two European teams that had a long history of playing the beautiful game
(as football is so often called, after Pele’s remark) beautifully: Spain and the Netherlands.
What happened will long be remembered as a final that flattered to deceive. The game
was an ugly contest that might be seen as a product of pathological professional ‘hyper-
commodified’ sport (Walsh and Guilianotti 2007).
For those unaware, the final broke new ground. The game was not one as befits the
contest for the world champions, being marred by misconduct that drew opprobrium
from all quarters. Impartial spectators almost universally attribute wrongdoing principally
to the Dutch team and management. Many criticised the officiating. The English referee,
Howard Webb, brandished 14 cautions (yellow cards) to the players (Dutch 9; Spanish 5).
Two were given against the same player, Johnny Heitinga, which entailed his being ‘sent
off’ the field of play, rendering his team a player short during added time/overtime in
which the Spanish were victorious. While it is not necessary to recap the journalistic
commentary that ensued, two points are worth dwelling upon. First, attention should be
Sport, Ethics and Philosophy, Vol. 4, No. 3, December 2010
ISSN 1751-1321 print/1751-133X online/10/030235–04
ª 2010 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/17511321.2010.531913
paid to the rules that define football and how it is (not) to be played, whether on Sunday
parks games or the World Cup final. A fuller consideration of the merits of this principle
would properly focus on the fact that FIFA, the world’s governing body, has hitherto
maintained

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