Ethics for Everyone

Moral wisdom for the modern world

The Beauty of Sport and Why I Love Arsenal

Beauty and Victory

"The goddess of sport is not Beauty but Victory, a jealous goddess who demands an absolute homage. Every act performed by the player or athlete must be for the sake of victory, without so much as a side-glance in the direction of beauty." --R.K. Elliott

In one sense, it seems like Elliott is right. For example, should a soccer player or club care about beauty, or simply victory? Many would say that the most important thing in sports is to win. Better to win ugly than lose beautifully, they claim. But why can't athletes and their teams aspire to both victory and beauty?

In the past, Arsenal Football Club became well-known for grinding out ugly 1-0 wins. "One nil to the Arsenal" is still associated with the club, but now with a deep sense of irony given the changes made in the style and quality of play since Arsene Wenger took over as manager in 1996. As an Arsenal fan, I want them to win, but I don't look forward to or enjoy their games merely for the sake of victory. I anticipate watching their games and enjoy them because of the aesthetically appealing style of play employed by the club. Even when the club goes through frustrating times, as it has recently, I love watching them play because I know I will see a form of beauty on the pitch.I appreciate the physical and tactical excellence that is on display.

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Arsenal has shown that one can win with this style, that victory and beauty can go hand-in-hand. They went undefeated in the 2003-2004 season and have played in the Champions League for each of the past 14 years. And if you still doubt that beauty and victory can and should be sought together, at least in soccer, watch FC Barcelona.

Follow me on Twitter. For more on these issues, check out Watching Sport, by Stephen Mumford.

Michael W. Austin, Ph.D., is a Professor of Philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University.

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