Ethics in Sports: Foul Strategy Usage

Foul strategy is an act in which a player intentionally breaks written rules in a sport to gain advantage over his or her opponents. Normally, players commit the foul in a manner which suggests that they where not doing intentionally. Some players are known for foul strategy. As a result, their opponents exercise extra caution while playing against them. Some coaches have taught their players ways to administer strategic foul in a match without. However, some players exercise their discretion. Foul strategy is common in basketball, rugby and football. Other spots like cycling portray some form of intentional fouls (Stovitz & Satin, 2004). Intentional foul strategy in a match has varying pros and cons depending on the circumstances.

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When teams are leading in a match they always want to ensure that they maintain their position. Use of intentional foul strategy allows a team to enhance its leadership in a match. When pressure increases, players in a leading team intentionally foul opponents so that match official intervenes by awarding a foul. As a result, time ticks off before the other team scores. It is common in football for teams which are goals above to use various foul strategies to ensure that their opponents do not score before the end of the match. In their work, Stovitz & Satin (2004) notes that NBA star Shaquille O’Neal was a constant victim of this strategy. Their opponents normally took advantage of his poor foul shooting. When awarded a foul, he shot poorly wasting the remaining time giving the opposing team match advantage since he did not score perfectly.

When a team is goals/points down, a player can commit a foul so that the match officials increase injury time. In most sports, injury time is added at the end of normal time to compensate the time wasted during fouls. Successful foul strategy increases the injury time at the end of normal time. This will give the trailing team time to try to score against their opponents. If the team committing the foul is trailing, they can eventually draw or win the game. Foul strategy can be used by one of the teams when they are equal in scores. If a team use the added time constructively and win against the other team, the foul becomes an advantage (Stovitz & Satin, 2004).

In some cases, a player commits an intentional foul to stop the opposing team from scoring. For example, in football some rules cannot be ignored even if it gives advantage to the team being fouled. In other sports, foul stops a player from scoring (Stovitz & Satin, 2004). This strategy is used by players in basketball, cycling, rugby and several other sports to stop the opponents from scoring or winning. The fouled team or player may be awarded a penalty if the match referee is convinced that there is a foul. Meanwhile, time will pass while the player awarded the foul is trying to score through penalty, instead of normal play (Merrill, 2010). In cycling, track events and other individual sports, fouled competitors are not awarded with any foul. Normally, the players using foul strategy proceed to win with ease.

Use of intentional fouling strategy may be detrimental to the team/player in some circumstances. In some cases, a player who uses foul strategy is deemed unfair by the referee. Such actions are sometimes considered cheating in some games. When the match officials is convince that such action it is unfair, the player may be sent off. In football, some rules are fatal that no warning is given and a player can be given red card because of his/her behavior. When a player is red carded and the team is one man down, it becomes weaker. If a player is sent off early in the match, his or her team can easily concede sine their opponents have enough time to capitalize. The team with fewer players can concede more than one goal or points depending on the length of remaining time. Punishment imposed on player may extend to a long time depending on intensity of the foul. Reliable player can be banned from playing several matches hence his or her team struggles in subsequent matches.

While committing an intentional foul on the pitch, a player/team takes a risk with the expectation that it will pay. Punishment to be awarded by match official cannot be predicted by the players. A penalty may be awarded instead of a less effective foul and the opposing team can easily score. The team which commits the fouls eventually is defeated as opposed with their expectations.

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Fouls strategy is normally intended to give the team an advantage over the other without hurting any player. However, this does not always happen. According to Stovitz and Satin (2004), NBA coaches sometimes put their worst players to foul intentionally and physically injure Shaquille O’Neal. These injuries reduce Shaq’s performance in the game and sometimes he is unable to continue to the end. This shows that some players are injured and cannot continue playing for the better part of the game or even for a couple of weeks. Players who commit these fouls are also prone to injuries. If they do not implement their strategy well, they end up injured because of the physical encounter with their opponents.

In the 2010 world cup quarter finals match between Ghana and Uruguay, Uruguayan team avoided conceding a second goal against the Ghanaian team by using intentional foul strategy. Ghanaian team had enhanced it’s attacking against the Uruguayan during extra time. During the last five minutes of extra time, Ghanaians team had a series of shots on target against their opponents. The first few shots were successfully saved by goalkeeper. Another shot was parried by a defender on the line. The final shot was deliberately punched by a Uruguayan striker Luiz Swarez. Since the action was deliberate, it was spotted by all match officials as hand ball in the penalty area. A penalty was awarded to Ghanaians because of the foul. The match referee gave Luiz Swarez a red card because he touched the ball intentionally. Swarez left the pitch and had to miss the next match if his team qualified for semi finals. If his team had not won, his efforts and actions would have gone in vain. However, Asamoh Gyan failed to score the penalty (Merrill, 2010). After the elapse of 120 minutes of the normal and extra time, the two teams drew. To determine the winner, a penalty shootout was the last option according to football rules. The Uruguayan team finally won after scoring more penalties than the Ghanaians.

According to Stovitz’s and Satin’s argument (2004), Swarez’s actions amounted to cheating because he did not respect the culture of the game. Handball in football is considered as a mistake, but deliberate handball is cheating and its punishment is red card. Swarez did not respect the spirit of the game and the contract of fair play. However, the referee had an obligation to follow the laid down rules in punishing Swarez and rewarding Ghanaians. Ghanaian team wasted their final opportunity in the 120 minute normal and extra time when Asamoh Gyan missed the penalty. Swarez’s move was the smartest under the circumstances of that match. The shot was headed to the goal and would have made the Ghanaians winners in the game after 120 minutes. The Uruguayans got an advantage of the situations since the Ghanaians did not score the penalty as intended by Swarez. If Asamoh Gyan had scored the penalty awarded, the Ghanaians would have won the game and avoid penalty shoot-out.

There were varying reactions from all quarters to Swarez’s actions. According to one journalist, Swarez did not cheat because his actions were the most rational at that given moment (Merrill, 2010). If he had scored using his hand, it would have amounted to cheating, but he blocked an imminent goal. Although it was not morally or ethically the best sporting decision, it was the correct decision. This is because the shot intervened by Swarez would have been a goal and he did not know the outcome of the impending penalty. Various commentary teams regarded Swarez as a hero who sacrificed his sportsmanship to ensure success of his team. Others said his actions portrayed high level of indiscipline and unethical sports behavior. He did not respect the rules of the game but many believed there was enough reason to do that. Ghanaians failed to redeem themselves when they were awarded the penalty by the referee. Therefore, Uruguayan team won the match in a fair way because a penalty had been awarded and lost. Even though he did not play in quarter finals because of the red card, Swarez’s team played in semi finals but lost.

Annotated bibliography

Merrill, N. (2010). Intentional rule violations. The Edge of American West. 

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Merrill used Ghana verses Uruguay world cup quarter finals match to justify that foul strategy can influence the outcome of a game. This depends on the circumstance of the match. Since the outcome of a game depends on the actions of players, they do whatever it takes to win a match.

The article shows that Tactical fouling shifts the game emphasis from constructive to restorative skills; this eventually determines nature of the sport. In contrast with Stovitz and Satin, she argues that intentional fouling helps people to understand the use of unfairness to advance tactical advantage.

Stovitz, S.D. Satin D.J. (2004). Ethics and the athlete: why sports are more than a game but less than a war. Clinics in Sports Medicine, 23, 215– 225.

Stovitz and Satin uses several examples to show the difference between cheating and fouling. It is a function of ethos of the game. It is determined by the spirit of the rule, respect for the game or a contract between competitors. It shows that strategic foul may take advantage of the player’s weakness and sometimes strength may be of ultimate importance.

This article highlights an example to illustrate the circumstances under which strategic fouling changes the outcome of the game.

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