Belfast Telegraph

Monday 1 September 2014

How sporting Darren showed what fair play is really all about

They were stirring words: “Yes, we are fighting for survival, but there comes a time when you have to put your morals first.” Are these the words of a pro-democracy activist, a revolutionary, a religious martyr?

No, they are the words of Darren Murphy, player-manager of the Dungannon Swifts football team. He was defending his decision to throw away a penalty because he thought his team had been awarded it unfairly.

His behaviour has been universally applauded (well, I say “universally”, I haven’t done an exhaustive study, but judging by the comments online, everyone who’s bothered to express an opinion has been positive). This fills my heart with cheer. It’s good to know that in this world of dog-eat-dog, integrity and decent behaviour are still inspirational and aspirational.

His words are in sharp contrast to those of a man calling into a local radio station last week in a discussion about Northern Ireland’s relationship with China. Others had raised the issue of China’s appalling record on human rights and working conditions for its own people. This man said: “Never mind the sweat shops and that sort of thing, these people are giving us cheap goods.”

I wish Darren Murphy’s approach had been put to this man and his ilk, who seem to think human rights were invented by Arthur Scargill to thwart Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.

Murphy (below) explained that when he looks at any decision in a game he tries to see it from the other point of view and asks himself how he would feel if it was his team penalised. In other words, he is capable of empathy, putting himself in someone else’s position. He’s not simply attached to his own protection, survival and ego. His attitude embodies everything beautiful about human beings, everything that separates thinking humans from animals that run purely on instinct for survival.

Northern Ireland is not going to change the face of global economics. We’re not likely to steer China’s ongoing growth. We won’t make them improve their workers’ conditions. Not on our own. But that doesn’t mean we simply go along with whatever the new super-power wants, for the sake of jobs and business here.

Do you want cheap goods that are bought at the cost of another human being’s suffering. Do you want less for others than you would want for yourself or your family?

In our hearts we say no. At times like this, it’s up to us to put our money where our hearts are and not be seduced by short term kickbacks. Politicians need to be voted in every four years. They’re most likely motivated by needing to make popular decisions. But we’re not morons. We aren’t elected every four years. We are in life for the long haul and if we allow policies to be carried out in our name, policies that are expedient at best and immoral at worst, then we are betraying our own humanity.

Darren Murphy’s team lost the match that day. But no one doubts he won the game. That’s leadership. Where’s ours?

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