BEFORE last December, few had heard of Spanish runner Ivan Fernandez Anaya. He gained worldwide fame through a most heart-warming show of sportsmanship.
He was second behind Kenyan runner Abel Mutai who thought he had won a cross-country race in Burlada, Navarra.
Mutai however had mistakenly thought the race ended about 10m before the actual finish line. Anaya saw that Mutai did not realise this and slowed down to guide the Kenyan to finish the cross-country race ahead of him.
A more ruthless competitor would have just gone past Mutai to claim the gold, but Anaya was clearly a sportsman who valued something bigger than just a win. Even his coach Martín Fiz was reported to have said that he would have taken advantage of Mutai’s mistake to win.
But Anaya recognized that Mutai was the “moral winner” and if he had crossed the line first, it wouldn’t have really counted.
In June this year, American schoolgirl Meghan Vogel helped carry another runner Arden McMath across the finish line after the latter collapsed 20m from the finish line in a 3200m race.
Vogel made sure Arden was in front of her, resulting in Vogel ending up in last place. This might have only been a relatively small race meet, but the gesture was as priceless as a gold medal.
Controversial ex-footballer Paolo Di Canio once caught the ball when he had a good chance to score when he saw the opposing goalkeeper Paul Gerrard injured. In giving up the chance to take what he thought was an unfair advantage, the Italian instantly won the hearts of millions.
Former Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler once told the referee that a penalty against Arsenal was wrongly awarded as he had lost his balance. The referee however insisted on giving it.
Last year Lazio stroker Miroslav Klose asked the referee to disallow a last-minute goal that he had scored against Napoli. One wonder what Diego Maradona must have been thinking when he heard about this.
Stories like this contrast dramatically with footballers who dive to win penalties or fake injuries so that they can waste time or disrupt the opponent’s rhythm.
I have even seen this during amateur futsal tournaments, when some players would do anything to get an unfair advantage. Unfortunately in an era where money and the win at any cost attitude takes precedence, these incidences of good sportsmanship are a rarity.
Doping is commonplace in cycling, with Lance Armstrong being the poster boy for cyclists. Football leagues in Italy, China, Korea and Malaysia among others have been found guilty of corruption.
One of the most demeaning acts in the field happened during a Tiger Cup group match between Indonesia and Thailand back in 1998. Both teams wanted to avoid favourites Vietnam in the semifinals and played half-heartedly as a win would put them through against the host nation.
It became so bad that Indonesia purposely scored a last minute own goal. Thailand farcically even tried to defend the Indonesian goal.
The same thing happened during last year’s London Olympics when eight female badminton players purposely tried to lose their games so that they would get a favourable draw. They were eventually disqualified from the tournament. Good thing too I say.
Arguably the worst case of all was in 1994 when figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was attacked by a baton-wielding assailant after a practice session.
The favourite for the US skating championships was injured badly and had to sit out. In her absence, a former champion skater Tonya Harding won the tournament and a place in the 1994 Winter Olympics.
It was later discovered that Harding’s ex-husband had hatched a plan to injure Kerrigan. Harding later admitted to knowing about the attack but failed to come forward.
Ultimately, the most important thing about sport is the participation. Winning should never be the most important thing. Winning by cheating or forcing out the opponent is the most despicable thing. If one can’t handle a better opponent, then they might as well just call it quits.