Monday, July 9, 2018

Soccer Ethics

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

A fish rots from the head – Sicilian proverb

While Nelson Mandela was reading, reflecting and seeking to understand his Robben Island jailors (making lasting friends and supporters in the process), Jacob Zuma was playing soccer.

You know the rest of the story. Mandela grew into one of the 20th century’s great heroes and senseis, the father of modern South Africa, the rainbow nation, widely beloved and respected round the world.

Jacob Zuma, by contrast, has brought South Africa to ruin and disgrace, selling it to the sordid Gupta family for thirty pieces of silver.

My South African friends say that Zuma practices ‘soccer ethics’ – lie, cheat, steal and get away with whatever you can. Soccer ethics dissolves standards – there is no right and wrong. There is only, ‘what can I get away with’.

We see soccer ethics on display in this year’s World Cup, no? Neymar, Brazil’s star, and his ilk are cheaters, are they not? They fake injuries brazenly with the hope of drawing unjustified fouls.

[I hope my Brazilian friends and colleagues will forgive me for singling out Neymar. He is simply the most obvious example, and certainly not alone.]

Video replays are exposing the cheaters, and the world is heaping derision on them.

Soccer ethics creates a peculiar mindset: I have no responsibility to anybody but myself. The cheaters’ worst excesses are deserving of a Yellow or Red card – a penalty that would seriously damage their team’s chances.

Moreover, their behavior brings dishonor to their sport. Does they reflect on this? Does it at all hinder their conduct?

A fish rots from the head. Let me suggest, the cheaters on the pitch reflect the cheaters in FIFA management. Sepp Blatter, disgraced former FIFA-head, has more in common with Tony Soprano than he does with Nelson Mandela.

And like Jacob Zuma, Blatter thinks he has done nothing wrong.

I can’t help contrast soccer ethics with ethical codes in say, golf or rugby. [Football can Learn Lessons from Rugby] [Ten Golf lessons for your Company]

Of course, golfers and rugby players sometimes violate the standards, drawing quick & decisive countermeasures from each sport’s ruling body. And censure from fans, other players and often one’s self.

Phil Mickelson is still apologizing for hitting a moving ball on the putting surface in this year’s US Open.

Soccer ethics shame the beautiful game. How do such standards evolve? That’s a blog for another time.

But the leadership lessons are clear: What you do is what you get – so do the right thing.

Who do you want to emulate - Nelson Mandela or Jacob Zuma?

Best regards,


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