Professional sportsmen who break the rules are not "cool for school", while their young fans are not as impressionable as we might think, according to research by MCC and the Cricket Foundation.
The large majority of the 1,015 children polled, aged eight to 16, describe a sportsperson who does something unfair in a game as a "cheat" (72%) and "stupid" (33%); with only 4% who think they are "cool".
Far from being easily influenced, two thirds of children (67%) deny that seeing a famous sportsperson doing something unfair in order to win would make them more likely to do it themselves.
However, the school playing field is still a hotbed of rule-breaking with more than half of children (54%) witnessing unfair play in every single game they play.
Faking injuries, elbowing in the face, arguing with the umpire and head butting were among the many examples of gamesmanship cited by youngsters.
Encouraging fair play in schools
To help combat bad sportsmanship at grassroots level, MCC - guardian of the Laws and Spirit of Cricket - and the Cricket Foundation charity are continuing their joint nationwide scheme to encourage fair play in schools.
Launched last year, the initiative will bring lessons in ‘fair play’ to children in 4,000 state schools throughout the summer term.
Respecting teammates, opponents and officials are among the areas covered in the MCC Spirit of Cricket session; an integral part of the Cricket Foundation’s Chance to shine campaign to educate children through cricket.
In encouraging news, in a like-for-like survey of 200 eight to 11-year-olds involved in the MCC Spirit of Cricket scheme, the number of children who witness unfair play in every game drops significantly to 37%.
Equally, the number of children who say they "hardly ever" or "never" see unfair play (41%) is twice that of children who are not part of the fair play scheme (21%).
John Stephenson, Head of Cricket at MCC says: "Our partnership with the Cricket Foundation has proved that lessons on MCC Spirit of Cricket can and do have a positive effect on how children play sport."
"We passionately believe that sport should be played to win but not at all costs. Chance to shine coaches and teachers instil the message to play hard, play fair and have fun, which is something we feel can be of benefit to children of all ages and abilities, no matter what sport they take part in."
"MCC looks forward to enhancing the school sports experience for hundreds of thousands of children in schools across England and Wales this summer."
Wasim Khan, Chief Executive of the Cricket Foundation adds: "Fair play is something that should be taught at an early age.
"We feel that we’re in an ideal position to help teach good sportsmanship through our Chance to shine programme and partnership with MCC."
"Independent research by Loughborough University found that cricket can help provide young people with key life skills such as how to win and to lose graciously. It’s all part of our campaign to educate children through cricket."
Highlights of the MCC/Cricket Foundation survey:
- Fourteen is the age when bad sportsmanship is most common, with almost two thirds (63%) of teenagers of this age regularly seeing cheating in games
- Leeds is the place where children most see unfair play "lots of times in a game" (27%); neighbouring Sheffield is the least (7%)
- Unfair play occurs overwhelmingly more in team sports (72%) than in individual sports (just 6%)
- Dads worry more about their offspring being impressionable: almost half (46%) confess to worrying about their kids copying an unsporting pro, compared to one in five (21%) of relaxed mums
- Half of parents admit that their children’s bad behaviour on the playing field is their responsibility; followed by the coach’s (28%)