Ethical Literacy – Reducing Bad Behaviour in Sport

May 10, 2013
Players and coaches head off the field

Why is it that bad behavior in sport seems to be escalating? Doping, match-fixing, violence, fraud, harassment and others. Sport’s great potential to shape and transform lives and to impart values and build character, appears to be losing ground to a wide array of unethical behaviours in sport. If we can’t put the right values in sport, we cannot expect to get the right value out of sport.

The most recent example of unethical conduct in sport was the tragic death of a soccer referee in Utah who died after being punched in the head by an angry 17-year-old player upset with receiving a yellow card. While this may be an extreme example, this type of unacceptable and harmful behavior is all too common across many of our sports in communities across Canada.

The Canadian Sport Policy (CSP) 2012 emphasizes the need for our sport system to be values-based and guided by principles derived from those values. This is a good start if we want to reduce the incidence of unacceptable behaviour. But if we fail to put this CSP aspiration into practice, and measure our progress towards this kind of sport system, then we will have missed an important opportunity to respond to the kind of sport Canadians have been telling us they want for over a decade.

We have long discussed the importance of values in sport. We have talked about fair play and sportspersonship and we have developed codes of conduct for sport. These efforts; however, have fallen well short of the mark. They pay lip service to the importance of values in sport. They exist at the margins of sport instead of being central and essential to sport. Too often we are seeing the guardians of sport at every level choosing winning by any means instead of ensuring that the sport experience honors all of the values and principles that make for good sport. The most recent example where a 17-year-old, disgruntled over a yellow card in soccer, feels entitled to physically assault an official, is a sad reminder of the work ahead.

To create a values-based and principle-driven sport experience, as imagined in the Canadian Sport Policy, we need a blueprint and a set of tools and programs to assist the sport community in making the transition from its rudderless current state to one that ensures, deliberately and intentionally, that the values and principles of good sport drive every sport experience from playground to podium. A system like this would not produce a 17-year-old who would ever think to strike an official.

The good news is that such a methodology, along with the programming tools, does exist. It is based on the concepts of ethical literacy and it is referred to as True Sport in Canada. True Sport is a national, coordinated approach to ensuring ethical literacy in our sport system. A system to put the right values in sport so that we get the right value out of sport. The True Sport methodology also provides a blueprint for the CSP if the guardians of the CSP wish to set goals and measure progress in the area of values-based sport. To learn more about this methodology and system and to access the programming tools, go to