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The World's Fairest
Jay Feldman
February 07, 1994
The International Fair Play trophy honors good sportsmanship
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February 07, 1994

The World's Fairest

The International Fair Play trophy honors good sportsmanship

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At the 1964 Innsbruck Winter Olympics, Italian bobsledder Eugenio Monti and his partner, Sergio Siorpaes, led the field after their second run, a course record, in the two-man event. The only competitors given a chance of beating the Italians were the British team of Tony Nash and Robin Dixon. But after their second run Nash and Dixon discovered that an axle bolt, a critical piece of hardware, had snapped off their sled.

Waiting at the bottom of the course, Monti heard of the Brits' bad luck and knew that the nearest replacement was in the Olympic Village, miles away. He detached the axle bolt from his and Siorpaes's sled and sent it up to Nash and Dixon, who fixed their sled, had a superb second run and ultimately won the gold medal. For his act of sportsmanship Monti won the first Pierre de Coubertin International Fair Play Trophy, named for the founder of the modern Olympic Games.

"It is very important to win, of course, though it is equally important to win in a proper way," says Janusz Piewcewicz, secretary general of the Paris-based International Committee for Fair Play (CIFP), the group that awards the trophy. "But if you take a risk to lose even though you have a chance to win, you become extraordinary—you become what we call in France 'a knight of fair play.' "

High school basketball coach Cleveland Stroud became such a knight in 1987. About a month after his Rockdale County High Bulldogs won the Georgia state championship, Stroud discovered that a player who had been on the floor for just 45 seconds in one game was academically ineligible to play. Stroud returned the championship trophy and forfeited the title. "I called my players together," he says, "and told them that in a few years people would forget the score, and even who won, but they wouldn't forget what you're made of." Stroud's actions earned him the 1987 Fair Play trophy.

The executive council of CIFP chooses the winner from among the 35 or 40 nominations it receives each year. The group outlines its ideals in a 31-page booklet, Declaration on Fair Play, which delineates the responsibilities not only of athletes but also of coaches, parents, teachers, sports organizations, sports doctors, referees, public officials, journalists and spectators. According to the booklet, one of the organization's goals is to promote international understanding. Therefore the 1972 trophy was given to Stan Smith for averting "a major incident which could have brought discredit on tennis and undermined goodwill between the competing nations."

"It revolved around a Davis Cup match in Romania," says Smith, who was a member of the 1972 U.S. team that played the Romanians in Bucharest. "We were ahead two to one, and I was playing Ion Tiriac, the old king of Romanian tennis, who was being dethroned by Ilie Nastase. It was Tiriac's last stand in a way. This was just after the Munich Olympics in which the Israeli athletes had been killed, so there was quite a bit of tension in the air since we had two Jewish players, Harold Soloman and Brian Gottfried. We had very tight security and about 100 military guys with machine guns.

"Tiriac won the first set, but I won the next two in spite of some flagrant calls. He seemed to have control of all the linesmen, and I nearly lost my composure several times. He won the fourth set, and the crowd was going crazy, and he was getting pretty cocky. But I served an ace on the first point of the fifth set and won the set 6-0. The match was televised throughout Europe; I think that's why they gave me the award."

Indeed, though the award carries great prestige in Europe (the awards ceremony, which takes place in Paris in October, is televised in Europe), it hasn't received much publicity here. Andras Toro, a four-time Olympic canoer and kayaker and former secretary of the U.S. Olympic Committee who now sits on the executive council of CIFP, sees another way to promote the ideals of fair play in the U.S. He points out that while fair play is in short supply when there are great amounts of money to be made, a fair play trophy for professional sports in the U.S. would be a perfect avenue to advance the cause.

"We could start with baseball," says Toro, "and the trophy could be presented before the All-Star Game. That way it would penetrate into the fiber of professional sports in this country—to the benefit of all, because it would trickle down to amateur and high school sports. There would be a visible clement out there saying, Hey, guys, fair play is important."

Jay Feldman, who writes for magazines and television, lives in Davis, Calif.