Back in the late 1980s I was standing on the sideline watching a game of rugby between two arch rivals. One of the teams had dominated the other for more than two years but this match was different. It was close and there was a real chance of an upset.

With a couple of minutes to go one of the wingers broke free and was heading for the try line. Only the fullback remained between him and victory. A swerve and side step allowed him to evade the fullback but he got clipped and momentarily lost his balance before regaining it to go over in the corner for the match winning try. But instead of celebrating he walked back to confer with the touch judge. After remonstrating for a moment or so the try was reversed and a line out ordered. He had put his foot on the sideline and that is out in rugby. No try. The match was lost. The touch judge, who had slipped on the heavy ground trying to keep up, had missed it but the player hadn’t. He knew he was out.

After the match ended a few people in the crowd started clapping. Then others joined in. Pretty soon everyone, including the referee and the other team, was clapping the team and the player involved. It was a remarkable moment.

The player didn’t want to win unfairly. In the end, neither did his team. They wanted to win honestly and without excuses. After two more attempts they did beat the other team. And that victory was so much sweeter because it was legitimate and hard earned.

In the scheme of things it wasn’t a big game and there were only 150 people or so watching it. But the memory of it still stays with me.

In the current world of drug cheats, performance enhancing drugs and pushy parents too many people are prepared to cross the line. To claim victory without deserving it and being prepared to sacrifice personal integrity as if it was nothing. Victory doesn’t come cheap. It never has. And it won’t ever. Ben Johnson, Marion Jones, Lance Armstrong and others have learnt that lesson the hard way.

If it comes down to a single moment when you know you have put your foot on the touch line do you put your hand up or keep it down? No-one else will know. It’s your call. What happens next?


Image: Dan Mountford