At first, when asked to speak about integrity in sport for the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Corruption (UNGASS) I was at a loss for what to say. I haven’t brushed up against serious corruption or manipulation in my career so what could I use for contrast? But the more I thought about it the more I realised that sport has taught me some deep lessons about integrity, and they are lessons that are seamlessly translated into normal life.
I picked up a tennis racket at the same time I learned to walk. It has been part of my life from the very beginning.
I have played competitions at all levels: age-group events in New Zealand, international junior events, ITF Futures events, ATP Challenger and World Tour events, and even Grand Slams, Davis Cup, and the Olympics.
Tennis maintains strong sense of sportsmanship
From my perspective, tennis is one of the lucky sports, with a strong sense of sportsmanship and etiquette running through the game regardless of level. Even when calling one’s own lines at junior events there is an undercurrent of integrity, where no player wants to be known as the cheater. Those who do cheat are very quickly recognised and lose respect in the eyes of the tennis community.
Pressure at lower levels
Despite tennis being regarded as a relatively clean sport, there has been evidence of corruption and manipulation over the years. This occurs most commonly at the lower professional levels, where the prize money is scarce and the expenses are high.
Players struggle to make ends meet and are more susceptible to bribes from gamblers who want the player to throw a set or a match in return for money, and sometimes the money that is offered is more than what they would get if they were to win the match.
The tough thing to admit is that I understand the temptation. I spent years trying to break through the lower levels and make a living from the sport I had devoted my life to. It was not easy going back to parents or sponsors and asking for more money just to keep the dream alive.
These trying moments are where maintaining integrity is so important. Not only does it allow you to look yourself in the eye and be proud of who you are, it also maintains the integrity of sport as a whole.
Story from personal experience
The first time I won an ATP Tour event, I was given a wildcard into the event and had somehow found my way into the final alongside a Romanian player. We were halfway through the second set and we were flying, with thousands of home crowd fans cheering us on.
During a rally, our opponents smashed a ball at my partner that skimmed past him and landed out. In tennis, if the ball hits any part of your body or clothing before bouncing you lose the point. Our opponents protested to the umpire, claiming that the ball had hit my partner’s shirt on the way past and that it was their point. The umpire didn’t see it, so they looked at us and asked us if the ball had hit the shirt.
I wasn’t sure. I didn’t see a change in trajectory as the ball flew past, but I had an inkling that there might have been some contact. But I wasn’t sure! I looked them in the eye and said that the ball hadn’t touched, and we went on to win the title. Despite winning my first ATP Tour title in front of a home crowd, that incident coloured the experience. Nothing would have changed in the result if I’d said ‘I don’t know’, but I would have felt better about the victory.
It seems like a tiny thing, but that moment has stuck with me to this day. It taught me that it’s better to win or lose cleanly clean than to win with even a hint of dirt on you.
Here is a link to his recent speech at UNGASS.
About Marcus Daniell
Marcus Daniell is a professional tennis player from New Zealand. He is a Wimbledon and Australian Open Quarterfinalist, a 5-time ATP Tour titleholder, holds numerous caps for the NZ Davis Cup Team, and is a double Olympian.
This week, he won the bronze medal in Men’s Doubles along with Michael Venus at the Tokyo Olympics
Marcus is also the founder of High Impact Athletes, a charity that harnesses the wealth and voices of professional athletes to raise awareness of Effective Giving and to do as much good in the world as possible.