Honesty – honestly?
The proverbial ‘best policy’ came under the spotlight again twice in high profile incidents in the sporting world on Monday night, posing questions about its benefits.
In the first, Cristiano Ronaldo, who hasn’t been renowned as a paragon of virtue on the pitch throughout his long career, was awarded a penalty kick – and argued against it. His team ended up drawing the match.
Later that night, Wolves captain Max Kilman could have contributed to an opponent being sent off, but instead his measured reaction, staying on his feet, ensured no red card was shown – and his side subsequently lost the game.
The Cristiano Ronaldo case was highly unusual.
The Portuguese superstar went down in the opposition penalty area in the second minute of an Asian Champions League group stage game for his Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr against Persepolis of Iran.
Chinese ref Ma Ning pointed to the penalty spot - only for CR to say that it shouldn’t be a spot kick.
A cynic might note that Al-Nassr had already qualified for the knockout stages even before the match kicked off.
The same cynic might wonder about what Cristiano Ronaldo’s reaction would have been had that been a match his team desperately needed to win.
There’s also the VAR factor. An utter cynic might suggest that Cristiano knew the decision would be overturned, so he might as well go for positive publicity. Perish the thought.
For all CR7’s glamour, it was the match Video Assistant Referee who persuaded the ref to overturn the award of a penalty kick.
Still, given the immense global status of Cristiano Ronaldo, his actions might do some good.
The ‘nature versus nurture’ debate comes into sport too.
My son, because he takes after his mother, becomes righteously indignant about any form of ‘cheating’ in sport.
Yet plenty of his classmates throw themselves to the ground, appealing for free kicks or penalties despite little or no contact.
Children aren’t necessarily taught to bend the rules, but they do learn to do so, often by watching their heroes.
In contrast, incidents of sportsmanship are fairly rare.
The Cristiano Ronaldo incident was reminiscent of one involving Liverpool’s Robbie Fowler - more than a quarter of a century ago.
The stakes were much higher then than on Monday night. Back in March 1997 Liverpool were challenging then champions Manchester United at the top of the Premier League table.
Away to Arsenal, leading 1-0, Fowler nicked the ball past home goalkeeper David Seaman, who appeared to bring him down.
Fowler got up, waved his arms, telling the referee that it shouldn’t be a penalty.
The referee stuck his guns though. (I still argue that the award of that spot kick was correct. Fowler had to leap over Seaman to avoid being fouled by him.)
Fowler’s poorly struck penalty was parried by Seaman, with the forward insisting afterwards it wasn’t deliberately bad (Jason McAteer netted the loose ball for what proved to be the winner).
In west London on Monday night Wolves might have won – or certainly not lost – at Fulham had the visitors’ Max Kilman ‘made more’ of a head-butt by opponent Carlos Vinicius.
Instead, 11-man Fulham went on to get yet another dubious penalty against Wolves and win.
Kilman may ponder his actions. His manager, team-mates, and supporters may say that honesty doesn’t pay. Wolves look more than good enough to avoid relegation from the Premier League but you never know the cost of a lost point.
However, VAR should have removed any need for players to make moral decisions. Unfortunately, VAR and match officials still make some baffling calls, even after seeing video evidence.
Professional players tend to take the rough with the smooth, adopt the view that dubious decisions will even themselves out. Some go for you, some go against you.
Cristiano Ronaldo is an influential icon, but the worry is that kids might learn a harder lesson from the Max Kilman incident.
If match officials can’t punish players properly without witnessing over-reaction or even play-acting then the message might be that such dramatics are required to ensure you get the correct decision.
I saw at first hand true sportsmanship at the Athletic Grounds in Armagh on Sunday.
Monaghan champs Scotstown had inflicted a devastating defeat on their Tyrone counterparts Trillick, edging them out by the minimum margin after extra time in the Ulster Club SFC semi-final.
That meant the Reds missing out on a first appearance in a provincial decider for 49 years, which would have been only the second ever in the club’s history.
The Trillick players could have rushed away to drown their sorrows, but long after the bitter end of that match some of them were still on the pitch, still exhibiting sportsmanship, including the two Donnelly brothers.
First Mattie (who was out injured) limped over to congratulate his old university pal Kieran Hughes. Moments later, Richie, who had put in a magnificent performance himself, approached Shane Carey to wish him well for the final.
The Donnelly boys definitely are inspiring figures, before and after games.