My question deals with fair play and the relative value that we ascribe to victories in sports that are either earned through no apparent cheating or that are earned through a clear (though at the time undetected by officials) cheating (for example, the "hand of god" moment by the Argentine soccer player, Maradona). Have philosophers opined on this issue? As an aside, I note that it has been famously said by certain athletes in sports that "if you're not cheating, you're not trying." So perhaps there is a related though tangential question regarding the perceived amount of effort employed by players themselves in a sporting event -- that if you are not trying to bend the rules to some extent then you are not trying hard enough, and consequently you are not placing a sufficient amount of value on the purported end of the game or match, i.e., victory. I am not inclined to favor the "cheating is just really trying" angle, but it is offered as a frequent enough justification.

The issue, it seems to me, is that there are more than one set of criteria for what is a good game of football, or even what is fair. So, from the player, fan, coach and owner's point of view, whatever it takes to win might be considered both good and fair and 'part of the game' (thus the 'cheating is really trying' claim). The referee, on the other hand, is interested only that the game runs strictly according to the rules. The commentator or neutral fan is interested in the game as an exhibition of skill, dedication and drama, and blatant cheating (especially if the camera sees it but the referee does not) is likely to be seen as ruining the game. The broadcaster wants something that will raise viewing figures, and controversial or even violent acts might be just the ticket – everything of that type is 'fair' to them.

One might be tempted to say that the referee's view is the most valid because it is the most regulated by the rules that define the game, and is free from extraneous factors such as the owner's or broadcaster's profits, a player's sponsorship deal, or the fan's heartbreak. However, that is a bit like saying the 'game' of eating is to consume nutrients and avoid toxins. The taste of the food, the joy of the successful cook, the dedication of the farmer, sharing a meal with friends in a restaurant, the the supermarket's profits, or learning about new cultures through their cuisine (not to mention the occasional modest intake of toxins) would all be 'extraneous' criteria. Is it possible meaningfully to describe a cultural event like a football game, or a meal, in terms of its minimum conditions? Or is it an essential feature of such events that they involve the intersection of different purposes and thus criteria?

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