Match fixing in Ultimate?

imagedynsIn most sports, there’s a very clear distinction between cheating and match-fixing. Deliberate foul play to prevent a certain score may anger the opposition fans, but the home fans will use words like ‘pragmatic’ or ‘professional’. A player who dives to win a penalty in a big game is unlikely to feel guilty about it 30 years later.

But match-fixing – illegally influencing an official – is a big taboo. Punishments for interfering with the referee’s impartiality are often severe. People go to prison. And sportspeople – even those who would happily cheat on the pitch – would take little joy from winning a trophy through biassed officiating.

And losing that way? 30 years after Nottingham Forest were outrageously dumped out of a major European semi-final, some players are nowhere near getting over it.

Of course, match-fixing still happens, because of the money involved. But footballers don’t fix matches because they want to feel the pride of winning a trophy. And in Ultimate, the trophy is all there is – there isn’t a sufficient monetary incentive to cheat. If you aren’t going to be proud of winning, then there’s little point turning up.

There’s a skill in cheating an impartial referee, such that players can sometimes be proud of winning ugly. But there’s no pride in winning with a loaded dice. You might, I suppose, take some pride in how clever your match-fixing scheme was, and you’ll doubtless enjoy any financial rewards, but you can’t take pride in winning the match. In Ultimate, with no skill required to cheat, and no financial incentive, fixing a match for personal satisfaction would be just about pointless.

All of us expect the game to be settled by our skills, on a level playing field. Those skills might include some less attractive traits, but the point is that both sides have the same opportunities, and play under the same conditions.

High-level teams will often allow a certain amount of bumping or foul play, and that’s generally OK (well, I don’t love it personally, but you know what I mean) as long as both sides are on the same page. There’s some agreement on what is acceptable and what is not, and the game is essentially ‘fair’ even if not always to the letter of the rules.

But what if you’re the kind of player who is prepared to push the boundaries, yet not prepared to have the opponent do the same? If you constantly foul on the mark (and contest when it’s called) but also constantly call it when on offence, isn’t that more like match-fixing than cheating?

YOU are the referee, and you’re applying the rules differently to one team than the other. That’s pretty much the definition of a rigged game. Can you really feel any pride in what you’ve achieved?

The same sort of thing applies to instances of deliberate foul play, above and beyond whatever ‘gentleman’s agreement’ you might have with the opponent. Instead of just a player committing a ‘professional foul’, imagine the referee in another sport deliberately tripping someone in the act of scoring! And yet, in your dual role as player and referee, you’re prepared to take out the guy who’s about to release a huck? Have a word with yourself…

Treating both teams the same is an inherent part of being a referee. If you believe in your responsibilities as a referee as well as a player – and don’t get me wrong, I know some people don’t – then there’s no good excuse for doing anything outside the mutually agreed norms of the game.

If you make bad calls or bad plays because you can’t control your emotions in the heat of the moment, that’s a pity. But far worse, if you deliberately cheat from a position of responsibility – and then feel proud about winning – you probably need to think a little harder about what sport is, and what winning really means.

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8 Responses to Match fixing in Ultimate?

  1. Tom Abrams says:

    Great article (as always) Benji

    I think there is an interesting and subtle fourth area in between the paradigms you present.

    1) Play to the letter of the rule
    2) Play to agreed norms of contact
    ** 3) Play to agreed norms of contact and “good fouls” **
    4) Play a “rigged” game as you describe

    First to describe what I mean by a “good foul”. This in Ultimate is currently pretty uncommon but
    an example could be, the handler receives a lead pass up the line and has an open deep shot
    to throw. The defender realising the danger, fouls the thrower to prevent the huck. On the restart,
    it is not possible to recreate the momentum and positioning of the players and usually the
    throw is no longer on. This attitude is extremely common in refereed sports where there is a risk/reward to fouling. e.g. in football, you will often see tackles outside the penalty area that would not be made inside, as the cost is so much higher.

    It is easy to agree that there is nothing wrong with 1) and everything wrong with 4). 2) is
    becoming very commonplace in high levels of the game, and I would argue, from a rules perspective, essentially, the definition of “incidental contact” is larger. Issues can occur where teams have differing views on what is “incidental contact”

    3) is interesting because materially, is very similar to 2) in that both teams adhere to agreed norms with the difference being that the both teams expect to foul (without contesting) and to call foul on occasion. Although rare, this is starting to occur – maybe not at team level, but I have certainly seen this at an individual player level.

    My observations on this (without presenting an opinion!)
    – Deliberately fouling is explicitly against the rules
    – Both teams have agreed (either implicitly or explicitly) and accept that the fouls are part of the game
    – Could cause issues where there is disagreement between whether “good fouls” are acceptable or not


    • Brummie says:

      In no team I have ever coached was this so-called “good foul” acceptable. I think it’s probably the worst scenario for SOTG offences right now. The same applies to other “motion-killing” fouls / calls. British teams generally are bad for this, watch some footage back from EUCF and I generally feel embarrassed for my nation that so many UK players / teams think it is ok to cheat so blatantly.


      • Jared says:

        Hi Brummie,
        in regards to “motion-killing”, are you referring to the physical act of blocking someone or slowing the game play down? Interested to get thoughts on the second and the inconstancy with which people “enforce” the rules. I’ve often seen people set the level of materiality they are willing to use in regards to calls based on the score-line, cap format, how the other team are making calls, their style of play etc. Surely this is blatantly contradicting rule 1.3.7 (interpretation ensures us that the consistency of call making is not only confined to the one game) yet often is held as “playing a smart game”.


        • Sam Mehigan says:

          I presume by ‘motion killing’ Brummie means fouling when a certain option is available with a receiver in motion (and possibly a static/slower defender). Then when play is restarted both the receiver and defender are stationary taking away the offence’s advantage. I’ve been thinking for a while the rules could do with taking momentum into account for when play is restarted as opposed to players just taking up the positions they occupied before the stoppage.


    • Thanks Tom. As you could probably guess, I’m enormously against any concept of a ‘good’ foul. One of Lou Burruss’ recent articles talked about that too, and I’ve been mulling over a response – perhaps I’ll write a full piece on this topic…


  2. Brummie says:

    “But there’s no pride in winning with a loaded dice.”

    Maybe not to you, or to me, but I’ve certainly encountered players over my career that were willing to do so, and for whom “winning” was all that mattered. At any cost, even to their reputation, and with no regard for SOTG.

    In short, just because *you* don’t think there is pride in a victory through cheating doesn’t mean no-one else does.


    • Possibly. I guess the rest of the article was an attempt to explain why people shouldn’t feel pride in winning that way. I’ve met a lot of insecure people who wish to gain respect from others for ‘winning’ – people who are prepared to cheat just so they can tell their friends they’re ‘winners’. But those who feel personally proud of their achievement are somewhat deluded about what an achievement really is. You’re right though – such deluded people are out there…


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