From the earliest of ages and in all sports, before scoring titles and league MVPs, there come sportsmanship awards: symbols of hard work, competitiveness, fair play and courteous conduct.

For too many, however, these trophies are received as mere glorified effort awards, given to those who try to succeed but simply don’t have the natural talent to realize the excellence to which they aspire. It is when children grow ashamed of these types of prizes — when they would rather not be recognized at all than be recognized for being nice or gracious — that people like Luis Suárez become high-profile international stars.

Suárez was just another under-the-radar talent in professional soccer, playing for Ajax — a well-known club team in Holland — when he potted 49 goals in 48 appearances during the 2009-2010 season. At that summer’s World Cup, Suárez scored three crucial goals to lead his team to the quarterfinals when, for the first time, the Uruguayan striker became a source of international controversy.

With the score tied in the final minutes of extra time, Suárez stood on the goal line defending a Ghana corner kick. In the seconds that followed, the Uruguayan blocked two sure goals off the line, the second of which he punched away with his hands. Suárez was red carded, but Ghana missed the subsequent penalty kick and went on to lose the game. While many felt that Suárez had acted in an unsportsmanlike manner — or, to put it bluntly, that he had cheated — I defended the action. After all, there are rules and punishments in sports for a reason. Suárez saved a goal. Whether his save was instinctive or strategic, he and his team were punished appropriately, and Ghana simply didn’t capitalize on their opportunity to win.

My sympathy for the accused, however, ends there. Last October, Suárez — who had moved on to Liverpool in the English Premiership — was accused of verbally abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra with racial slurs and was subsequently handed an eight-match ban. Unlike Suárez’s punch-save in the world cup, racism is by no means an instinctive reaction. It has no place in any sport, and it is demoralizing that massive campaigns on the part of FIFA to end discrimination have not affected Suárez.

On Feb. 6, however, the Liverpool striker had a chance to put the incident behind him. It had been questioned whether Evra would be ready to shake hands with Suárez during the customary pregame handshakes, but on game day, the Manchester defender conceded that he was ready to move on. Suárez, however, had decided that he was the victim, and it was the man from Liverpool that refused the handshake.

In the youngest divisions of sports, athletes learn that they must always shake hands, regardless of the result. For someone who was entirely responsible for an earlier incident to refuse to make amends shows that we still have a long way to go in the realm of sportsmanship.

But hope remains. In a Mexican soccer league game in early February, a player on the Pachucan team went down injured with possession of the ball and play was halted. As is customary, the game resumed with a “drop-ball,” similarly to a faceoff in hockey. It was expected that out of etiquette, the opposing team, Estudiantes, would simply return the ball to Pachuca. Instead, the Estudiantes player took the ball and ran up field, eventually earning a penalty kick. The coach, shocked by his team’s behavior, could have simply lectured his players on sportsmanship after the game. Instead, he gave his penalty-taker a rare command: miss. In so doing, the Estudiantes coach preserved the integrity of the game. Even though his team trailed, 3-0, and a comeback was unlikely, the small gesture made international headlines.

Sportsmanship is a complicated concept because it seems to run contrary to the win-at-all-costs attitude that permeates the world of sports. But respect for the other team, for the fans and for the game is paramount at any level, and so long as players like Luis Suárez continue to dilute soccer’s reputation as “the beautiful game,” there is much work to be done.

Arik Parnass is a freshman in the

College. CANDID CANADIAN appears every Tuesday.

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