In the aftermath of England’s capitulation to Luis Suarez and his Uruguay teammates, Roy Hodgson, Wayne Rooney, Gus Poyet and a clutch of journalists have suggested that England were “too nice” during the World Cup. In an interview with the BBC, Hodgson, indicated that he would have been “very, very happy” to see his players try harder to get Uruguay’s captain, Diego Godin, sent off for his challenge on Daniel Sturridge. Despite also claiming that such actions go against the ‘standards’ we set as a nation. This prompted the following question: Does it matter if the England manager encourages his players to bend the rules? The short answer is yes; it matters a lot, but perhaps not for the most obvious of reasons.

Suarez’ handball in the 2010 World Cup.

While many will agree with Hodgson’s sentiment, as the national team manager, Roy is a role model to thousands of coaches across the country and as such, should be setting an example to the players that are consistent with the values he supports. However, his comments contradict the standards that he believes the nation he represents espouses. As the England manager, Hodgson has a responsibility to encourage his players to not only give their best to win, but also to do so in the right way, however, few really know why. According to Bandura’s (1986, 1997) Social Cognitive Theory, symbolic modelling can influence the moral judgments of others by portraying what is acceptable and suitable moral action. In other words, the behaviour of role models can influence how others view moral issues. Obviously the personal values of individuals are not solely modelled on the actions of sports people (Bandura, 1991), however, such actions can be an influence, especially during the formative years of moral development.

As the England manager, Hodgson needs to be aware that his comments may trickle down into the psyche of young coaches and players, who will believe that deviating from the moral standards is acceptable, as long as the team wins. Once individuals begin cognitively restructure what they consider appropriate behaviour, a slippery slope of decision making can result in gradual increases in unethical conduct (Bandura, 2002). Such actions usually take on the form of one or more of the following six moral disengagement processes: (1) advantageous comparisons (e.g., “well at least our actions weren’t as bad as what our opponents would do”), (2) justifications that attribute blame to victims (e.g., “they were asking for it”), (3) diffusion of responsibility (e.g., we wouldn’t have to coerce the ref if better decisions were made”), (4) dehumanising victims (e.g., ”our opponents are animals”), (5) choosing not to recognise the extent of harm (e.g., “what happens on the pitch is different from real-life”), (6) and using sanitising language or euphemisms (e.g., ‘’taking a dive’’ in other words ‘’cheating’’). Any of these strategies help the individual to lessen the perceived impact of their actions in order to protect their moral self-concept.

Perhaps the England team are destined to play the role of dignified loser, but we as a nation need to be careful what we wish for. Do we want to follow the lead of Uruguay by turning a blind eye and even defending an array of anti-social behaviour (e.g., the hand-ball that eventually eliminated Ghana from the 2010 World Cup, diving [too many to list], arm and two occasions of shoulder biting [Uruguay vs. Italy 2014; World Cup; Liverpool vs. Chelsea 2013; Ajax vs. PSV 2010]? Yes, cheating may win a game, but no team of talentless individuals has ever won the World Cup, simply by cheating their way through the whole tournament. Is progressing one stage further in a World Cup really worth foregoing our collective integrity for? Unfortunately, the ability of the players and/or management was not at the required level to advance within this tournament, but I for one will back the players for playing the game in the right way.

This article can also be found on Medium.