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Why Character Is Crucial in Sports

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Character and morality profoundly influence and shape sports participation, evident during memorable events like the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. In the gruelling 5,000-meter women’s track final, a collision left New Zealand runner Nikki Hamblin and American Abbey D’Agostino sprawled and injured on the track. D’Agostino’s selfless gesture of helping Hamblin up, despite her own injuries, symbolised the quintessential Olympic spirit, earning them international acclaim and commendation for their exemplary sportsmanship.

The integral role of moral character in sports

Athletes are often celebrated not just for their physical skills, talent, and prowess but for their virtues like patience, courage, resilience, and perseverance. Sports also play a crucial role in inculcating and nurturing character development, promoting essential qualities like discipline, teamwork, and sportsmanship. This normative aspect of sports suggests there are commendable and poor ways to engage in sports and exemplify the true essence of athletic competition.

The profound connection between character and sports

  • Maintaining integrity. The integrity of sports is paramount and essential. The cautionary case of Marion Jones, who admitted to systematic steroid use after initially winning five coveted medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, shows how a blatant lack of integrity can fundamentally undermine the fairness and sanctity of sports and rob other deserving athletes of rightful recognition and glory.
  • Character development through sports. Many enthusiastically engage in sports for their inherent transformative potential, hoping to become better individuals, more disciplined, focused, and healthier – both physically and mentally. Sports demand not only physical change and exertion but also development in personal discipline, habits, and mindset, highlighting the pivotal importance of character in personal growth and self-actualisation.
  • Impact on performance. During the thrilling 2024 Super Bowl LVIII, the virtues of key players like unwavering patience, tenacity, and perseverance were highlighted as instrumental factors in the Kansas City Chiefs’ hard-fought victory. This poignantly underscores that exemplary character does not just buttress ethical sportsmanship but can directly enhance and elevate performance on the grandest of stages.
  • The significance of actions and motivations. The true value of actions in sports, as in other facets of life, often lies in the underlying motivations behind them. This is manifest in inspiring stories of athletes who play for greater causes beyond personal glory, emphasising that the genuine nature, intentions, and driving forces of actions can fundamentally alter their moral worth and significance.


Sports are far from being sterile, morally neutral territories. They require a steadfast moral compass and adherence to ethical principles to maintain fairness, integrity, and the true spirit of competition. Character not only incisively shapes athletes’ performances but also catalyses their personal growth and development, underscoring its profound and multifaceted significance in sports. By celebrating virtues, highlighting moral exemplars, and steadfastly condemning vices, the sports community can collectively uphold the true spirit and integrity of sportsmanship across all levels of competition.

Emma Clarke is a freelance sports journalist and former collegiate athlete with a passion for sports ethics.

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