Famous Examples of Gamesmanship in Sport

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Gamesmanship is described as using psychological or other underhand methods to put off your opponent(s). Though not technically against the rules, such methods are often seen as ethically dubious (referred to as ‘unsportsmanlike conduct’) yet fully within the confines of the rules. Here is a list of some of the most notorious methods ‘ including examples – from the world of sport

1. Distraction

Bruce Grobbelaar is a famous goalkeeper who played for Liverpool Football Club who dominated the 1970s and 1980s. It is the job of the goalkeeper to put off the striker taking a penalty and in the 1984 European Cup Final, Grobbelaar put off two of the Roma strikers. In the first instance he mimicked scoffing spaghetti and in the second he pretended to tremble, wobbling his legs all over the place in something that was later referred to as ‘Spaghetti Legs’. Both strikers missed, allowing Liverpool to win the cup. Grobbelaar knew he was not allowed to move from his line, so he moved as much as he could while glued to the spot

2. New Equipment

The Ashes is one of the most hotly contested prizes in cricket. In 2009 during the final stages of one of the most critical Test Matches, England sent on Bilal Shafayat and the team physiotherapist. Ordinarily, this would be standard practice had it not been a) towards the end of the game and b) purely to replace the gloves of the final batsmen. Australia felt that this was a deliberate delaying tactic in order to break their momentum and unsettle them

3. Grunting

Grunting is seen as part and parcel of the female Tennis and most of the top players have been accused of deliberately making noise in order to unsettle their opponents. None have been accused of unsportsmanlike behaviour than Maria Sharapova who is widely acknowledged to have the loudest grunt in the history of the sport. It isn’t just that it puts opponent off, the Women’s Tennis Association feels there is something more sinister at work and has clearly stated that it is used to mask the sound of the string ‘ which can give the opponent an indication of how the ball has been struck and where it might land

4. Grabbing

Grabbing in boxing is a form of time wasting on a par with rugby or football (soccer) players passing the ball around in order to let the timer run out. During a particularly tough round where one fighter is trying to conserve his energy and thereby extend his recovery heading into the break, he will grab his opponent before he is able to throw a punch. The referee will part them, allow a couple of seconds to pass and then order them to resume fighting’¦ only for the process to begin all over again. One of the worst exampels of this is Nigel Benn’s second fight against Mauro Galvano where the Italian spent most of the fight grabbing his opponent

5. Pre-Match Tactics

The rugby rivalry between England and Scotland is well known and it is generally believed that Scotland use deliberate unsportsmanlike tactics before a ball has even been kicked in anger at Murrayfield. Scotland always hotly denies that they make their opponents wait on the field or that the bagpipe players who surround their opponents are sent out purely to unnerve England. These tactics were particularly prominent at the 2004 Six Nations, the first tournament that England had taken part in following their dramatic World Cup victory that made Jonny Wilkinson the nation’s darling

6. Match Fixing ‘ ‘Playing to a Draw’

Another unspoken rule in football (soccer) and perhaps even any team game is a complicated notion that both teams may benefit from a draw but should one win, then another party will gain at the expense of the losing team. In soccer, this often plays out at the end of the season where two teams are struggling against relegation but both need only one point to survive. However, a team beneath them in the league must a) win and b) hope that there is a victor in this game so that their points tally puts them above the defeated team. Though this is a ‘gentleman’s agreement’, some say it is very ungentlemanly.

7. Toilet Break

Often used in one on one games, again like Tennis, there is nothing wrong with asking for a break so a player can use the ablutions but in some cases, it is seen as a deliberate delaying tactic. Jimmy Connors is known to have used it several times to unsettle an opponent. In the 1983 US Open final, he made his opponent Ivan Lendl wait several minutes in blistering heat while he cooled down and regained his composure. It will also have the effect of infuriating the opponent who is stood alone waiting

8. Match Fixing ‘ ‘Trying to Lose’

While two teams agreeing to not exert themselves in the name of a mutual benefit is one thing, the 2012 Olympic Games was thrown into disrepute over a single game of Badminton. The pairs game between China and South Korea saw both teams persistently making basic errors ‘ it soon became apparent that both teams were deliberately trying to lose. Why? Both had already qualified for the next stage but it seemed that the winning team would have a far more difficult route through the following rounds

9. Getting Personal

Opponents might be bitter rivals on the field or track, but politely-worded insults are often common enough that most people don’t pay attention. The war of words between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastien Vettel turned personal in 2011 when the former dismissed the irrelevancy of Red Bull as being little more than ‘drinks manufacturers’ and proclaimed Fernando Alonso his primary rival, despite that Vettel was standing world champion and his team the Constructors Champions

10. Shilly-Shallying

Shilly-shallying or ‘faffing around’ is deliberately delaying having your turn, taking your shot or making your serve. Seve Ballesteros was the master of gamesmanship in golf. He would use tactics designed to take his time ‘ play with his watch, straighten an item of clothing, look up at the sky and stopping to cough before finally lining up for his shot.

Many consider gamesmanship to be a form of cheating, though not against the legal rules they tend to break an unwritten code of ‘sportsmanship’ or fair play that exists in many sports. Some of the examples above come perilously close to breaking the rules. Bruce Grobbelaar knew full well that he was not permitted to move from his line until the ball was struck yet attempted to put off the penalty taker through other methods.

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