The English phrase “fair play” suggests an application to sport, however it is not only sport to which it applies. It is in-fact an ideology that has been firmly established in British custom from at-least the medieval times, probably evolving from the Western European medieval concept of chivalry.
Chivalry arises from the Western European medieval ethos of the knight from the twelfth through to at-least the fifteenth centuries. Chivalry encompasses the seven Cardinal Virtues of Prudence, Justice, Temperance, Courage, Faith, Hope, and Charity. The virtues of justice and charity both embody the ideology of fairness. In the Monthly Python Holy Grail parodies there is a send-up of the ideology of fairness as a duelling knight allows the other knight to recover his sword continuing the duel. Examples of the modern evolution of fairness can be found in the game of cricket. The book “Cricket and England: A cultural and social history of the inter-war years” by Jack Williams, describes a sporting journalist as referring to the game of cricket as “the very essence of sportsmanship, tolerance and fair play.”
It is important to clarify what fair play is not. It is not a political doctrine although it crosses over into all political doctrines. It is also not based only in religion, although the virtue of charity might have its modern Western European origins in Christianity. Although it is embodied in the spirit of justice, it is not solely a legal doctrine; the law can and often arrives at a manifestly unfair result. Fair play is less complicated than religion, politics or law. Fair play is based in custom, in that it crosses all cultures, as we all have a sense of fairness. Every human being understands fairness instinctively even if they choose to ignore it. The aphorism “might is right” is naturally understood by all as a negative condemnation of the abuse of power. We all intuitively know that the powerful or wealthiest should not get their way simply by virtue of their power or wealth. Fairness is an inherent human feeling.
Britain is great. What has made her great has been the sense that she has of believing, amongst other things, in a sense of fairness. Sure mistakes have happened, and will continue. Countries like human beings, are not perfect. Countries make mistakes, and hopefully learn from them. Consider for a moment that a small island, such as Britain, still attracts the size of immigration that it does from all backgrounds and social status. Some arrive already financially independent, with a sizeable financial investment for the British economy, while others contribute to the professional, skilled and unskilled workforce. All are here because of the hope of a better future than they would have had where they came from. Undoubtedly, it is the sense of fairness in Britain that attracts the rest of the world, and gives her the deep respect she still enjoys in the world today.
Every human being knows deep down that without co-operation, control of anti-social behaviour, and the rule of law equally applied to all, you cannot have a peaceful and free society. Additionally without fairness in society democracy cannot work, and even capitalism cannot fully prosper. I believe that an unfair result cannot be a just result. The law of course sometimes arrives at a manifestly unfair result. Lawyers are trained to argue both sides; unfairness like everything else is open to interpretation.
My late mother always used to say that there is no accolade in taking pride in behaving better than those that are already morally lost. We should always strive to do better, and to be better people. It is too easy to pat ourselves on the back in comparison to corrupt, authoritarian and parochial social societies overseas. We must also maintain and improve our way of life within our borders; to keep striving to raise Great Britain. Fair play is an ideology that has been part of the British way of life for centuries, demonstrated in the actions of great British heroes and ordinary folk alike. Long may it continue to hold a special place in our hearts.