Situational ethics; hitting ethics for a six

The furore created over the results and actions of players in the recent second cricket test between Australia and India in Sydney has many lessons for us in the application of situational ethics.

Cricket is, for the uninitiated, a game steeped in history. It is a game for gentlemen, a game with written rules and unwritten etiquette and ethics.

It is the etiquette around the game which makes it different. It is the etiquette that confuses most new cricket followers. The rules are not much more difficult to learn than other sports.

It is learning what good play is and when to applaud it that confuses people new to the game. It is learning and caring about what “fair play” is and what is not that defines a true follower of cricket.

Hence the term, “It is not cricket”, used to refer to anything considered at all underhanded in nature.

What is “cricket” and what is not “cricket” is determined by people’s beliefs, conditioned by their upbringing. It is a system of ethics.

Cricket has the ability to spawn much moral indignation around what is “cricket” and what is not. Examined from an ethics framework, these positions often demonstrate what is called situational ethics.

The aftermath of the second test is rich in situational ethics as players, coaches, administrators, ex-players and members of the media took the moral high ground on different issues.

Take for instance, the agreement the two captains struck prior to the series starting. It was that the call of a fielder as to whether he caught a ball close to the ground would be accepted rather than asking umpires to decide.

Ethically, does this means that all contentious decisions should be made by the person involved? For example, the batsman who nicks the ball but is not seen to do so by the umpire should give themselves out? Should the close run out be decided by the fieldsman or the batsman? Or should it be, as in other sports, that an umpire always makes those decisions?

In this match, technology allowed us to see that the umpires made several mistakes in giving people out who were, in fact, not out and vice versa. Much was made by the Indian team, particularly their captain, of the impact those decisions had on the scores. For example, one batsman who knew he was out, but given not out on the score of thirty went on to make one hundred and sixty-two runs.

The batsman was not obliged under the laws of cricket to give himself out, a practice called “walking”. Even the etiquette of cricket has changed over the years in that most players in the world wait until they have been given out. “Walkers” such as Adam Gilchrist from the Australian team are now seen as an oddity.

An ethical framework would have it that everyone “walks” or does not “walk”. Whereas the Indian response suggested that those who do not “walk” and go on to score many more runs are cheats and those who do not score many more runs are considered simply as having the odds evened up.

In the end, the Indian response to the test match and the umpiring was so vehement it caused the International Cricket Council (ICC) to withdraw one of the umpires for the next match.

What would have been the Indian team management response and that of the ICC if the batsman in question had gone on to only score thirty-one runs?

An ethical framework would have the action of the umpire getting it wrong as cause for some action, possibly as a part of structured review of performance. The ethical framework put in place by the actions of the Indian team and the ICC is that umpires will be summarily suspended for a bad game. There is nothing wrong with this as an ethical framework. However, it is not what was in place at a formal or even informal level prior to the situation arising.

Perhaps the most spectacular response full of situational ethics came from journalists and ex-players. Ex-players who did not “walk” were full of venom for current players in the Australian team for not “walking”. Ex-players who used the most colourful language and played most aggressively were critical of the Australian team for allegedly being too aggressive.

One journalist suggested that the Australian captain resign without countenancing that others who had committed the same or worse sins in the past, now or in the future, should also resign. He suggested that a current player with captaincy aspirations should never be captain for hesitating after being given out. Applying that as an ethical consideration to all cricketers would leave a very limited group of players in any team, at any level, who could ever aspire to be captain.

Situational ethics manifests itself most often with duplicitous people, unthinking people and when good people allow emotion to cloud their thinking.

When emotion clouds our thinking in business we can easily be seen as applying situational ethics. We are seen as changing our tune to fit the situation.

Reacting to a problem, when we are tired or angry, is a recipe for situational ethics. We are less able to think through the precedents we set as vengeance becomes a driver of our actions.

Situational ethics, particularly if we claim a high moral ground whilst espousing our ethical standpoint, makes us (at best) look foolish. At worst, someone somewhere will hold us to the high ethical standard we espouse in a situation where we believe it does not actually hold true and we will suffer.

The next time an Indian batsman claims a doubtful catch or does not “walk”, claims of hypocrisy will be justified. The next time an umpire makes several mistakes, calls for his suspension will be justified.

So the next time you want to take your ball and bat and go home because of a perceived slight, be sure that your ethical standpoint will survive all situations, including ones you may find yourself experiencing in the future.

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