Thursday, July 22, 2010

Fair play in sports, what does it mean?

Anyone who has watched the Tour de France this year realizes that this is shaping up to be one of the closest contests in many years - only 8 second separate first and second with 3 stages to go. Granted there is really only 1 real stage left, the individual time trial on Saturday (tomorrow's stage is a flat road stage so it will be difficult for the leaders to gain time and the Sunday stage is a ceremonial stage heading to Paris). The big news is around how Alberto Contador gained his lead on Andy Schleck. To recap - stage 15 up the mountains where races tend to be decided, Schleck and Contador were clearly jockeying with one another the entire ride up the mountain, Schleck attacked looking to build on his 39 second lead. In what looked to be a move to the advantage of Schleck, Contador looked like he was struggling slightly on the climb, unfortunately Schleck's chain came off the derailleur. Contador, whether intentional or not, launched an attack just at that moment. Schleck did get his bike back into working order and made a mad charge to try and protect his yellow jersey, unfortunately the time lost was too great and he would end the day with a 8 second deficit to the Spaniard. The video from the incident:

The question becomes, was this fair play? There is an unwritten rule in cycling that you do not take advantage of your competitor's mechanical break down.Clearly not what happened with Contador and Schleck. Granted, Contador could have believed Schleck slipped or had a bad gear change. However I am going to believe that Contador knew exactly what happened, he was going to attack but the chain incident made it that much more opportune.

So the question becomes - was this in good sportsmanship? Should Contador have waited? This is similar to watching footy, when a player is injured you kick the ball out of play. I remember the 1/4 finals in 1998 between France and Italy it was late in a 0-0 game, France were in the Italian third of the pitch but an Italian player was down. Petit rather than pressing on, kicked the ball out of play. There were mixed reactions from the fans (game was in Stade de France) as well as Petit's teammates. He was praised by some in the media post game. For me that was the correct play. But what if France lost to Italy in PKs? So where does fair play end and winning at all costs start? If your team is losing 1-0 with 10 minutes to go in the World Cup 1/2 finals one of their players is down needing attention do you kick the ball out? Or if the other team kicks out the ball so their player can get attention, do you give the ball back or keep possession?

Should Contador have waited? To me he should have slowed down, maybe not get off his bike and wait for Schleck, but he should not have looked to increase his lead while Schleck struggled to get his bike back in working order. I am sure that if Contador ends in Yellow on Sunday he will not make any excuses. Of course, with both riders being young, this might just add to what could be a great rivalry over the next few years.


CB said...

Love the blog, and glad you hit on this.
Anyway, Contador should have waited, he's got a radio in his ear so to say he had no idea what was going on is garbage. His Directeur Sportif knew what had happened to Schlek, would have relayed it to Alberto and he could have decided to stop, but didn't.
Look no further than 2003 was Lance Armstrong went down because of a fan and Jan Ullrich (his biggest competition at the time, though enhanced) waited with the other contenders for Lance to come back to them.
With regard to soccer, the tradition is not to play the advantage when a player is down, so Petit did the right thing in 98, though I wonder how I would feel had France lost that game!
Great Blog and Allez Les Bleus!

GFC said...

I think, or hope, that Contador gets at least a minute on Schleck Saturday on the time trial. Otherwise there will always be a dark cloud on the win. I think there will always be. Great point on the 2003 tour, Lance could have kept going but he waited and beat Ullrich straight up. I think Schleck has been magnanimous in the way he has handled this.

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