A question of ethics: right or wrong?
A question of ethics: right or wrong?

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A question of ethics: right or wrong?

1 Defining ethics

Since sport and recreation is largely about people enthusiastically pursuing an activity that really motivates them, often in hazardous environments and involving relationships that require rapport and trust, it sometimes throws up some tricky dilemmas.

Loubert (1999) defines ethics as ‘the study of rules, standards and principles that dictate right conduct among members of a society. Such rules, standards and principles are based on moral values which serve as a basis for what is considered right’ (p. 162). In a sport and fitness context the coach or instructor should adhere to ethical standards set by organisations, such as REPs or governing bodies, to act in a way that is considered ‘right’.

Ethics is underpinned by morals and values, therefore it is important that we also pin down the difference between morals and values (see Box 1).

Box 1 Definitions

Values – the beliefs and attitudes that provide direction to everyday living. Values are personal beliefs and attitudes that guide action.

Morals – Morality is concerned with perspectives of right and proper and involves an evaluation of actions based on some broader cultural context or religious standard.

(Gavin, 2005, p. 66)

The following activity asks you to apply these definitions of values and morals to a real-life situation.

Activity 1 Morals and values

Allow about 15 minutes

Consider this statement from a semi-professional footballer and separate the morals and values illustrated here:

'I think it is important that as a footballer I am employed to help my team to win every match. Whilst some of my on-field behaviour may not be morally acceptable I can always justify my actions to myself.'


The main point here is that values are personal and what we think is important whilst morals are not decided or defined by ourselves. Morals are cultural or societal expectations. Even though by this footballer’s values he feels his behaviour can be justified it may not be morally acceptable within society. It would be interesting to see the response of the coach here. Would the coach encourage such behaviour if it produced the desired results or would he or she try and change the player’s values? What would you do as the coach in this situation?

Hardman et al. (2010, p. 345) acknowledge that the coach has a central role in influencing moral behaviour, stating ‘the coaching session, the training field, the changing room, the game, are all environments where children (and older athletes), alongside the presence of the coach, develop and test the moral dimensions of their evolving characters’. To help practitioners to work within these ethical and moral standards, organisations articulate codes of conduct to ensure that everyone knows what is expected.


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