Sport is a very big event in this country, and many people love to watch sport on TV and read about it on social media. Some news is negative, but other news can be uplifting—even inspiring.
I heard about something very unusual that happened in December 2012 during a cross-country race in the Spanish countryside near Burlada, Navarra. Spanish long distance-runner Ivan Fernandez Anaya was competing, and was running second, some distance behind the race leader Kenyan Abel Mutai. Abel was a bronze medalist in the 3,000 m steeplechase in the 2012 London
The surprising end of a race
As they came into the finishing straight, Ivan saw Abel misunderstand the sign at the end of the race, and mistakenly pull up about 10 m before the finish line. He thought he had already crossed the line. He was confused over the configuration of the course. Here was Ivan’s opportunity to bolt past him and win the race—after all, all’s fair in love and sport.
But not so in this race. He slowed up and running behind his competitor, directed him over the finishing line. Mutai won the race—Ivan Fernandez Anaya came an incredibly honourable second. This caused quite a sensation as you would imagine. In fact the world’s press was very interested why an opponent would do this—allow another competitor to win when he was coming first.
Mutai said, “He was the rightful winner. He created a gap. I didn’t deserve to win”. Sports journalists and most athletes praised Ivan’s actions. But his coach wasn’t convinced: “It was a very good act of honesty. A gesture of the kind that isn’t made any more. I certainly would have taken advantage of it to win, not come second. This had made him a better person but not a better athlete. He has wasted an occasion. You have to go out and win”.
Walking in integrity
Ivan showed inspiring honesty that day, and today he is a cult hero for his kindness in letting his opponent win. His coach was disappointed in him for not going for the jugular. But Ivan has no regrets. He knew what his conscience demanded, and not even a gold medal could make him compromise. So what is the issue here? Is it a greater priority to be a better person or a better athlete?
The Bible has quite a bit to say about fairness, character, conscience, and integrity. Proverbs 10:9 says, “Whoever walks in integrity walks securely; but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out”. There are some things in life prized more highly than winning. The Voice translation of the same verse says, “The path of integrity is always safe, but a person who follows a crooked way will be exposed”.
What does this mean? People with integrity live by fairness, even when fairness puts them at a disadvantage or causes them some degree of difficulty. They fight fair even when those around them do not. They consider their word their bond, allowing their ‘yes’ to mean ‘yes’ and their ‘no’ to mean ‘no’. Others find them to be authentic and transparent, and what you see is what you get.
People with integrity live by fairness, even when it is to their disadvantage.
Do you admire people like that? People of integrity are straightforward in their conduct. They don’t hide what they’re doing, and they don’t say one thing and do another. They are people “in whose spirit is no deceit” as it says in Psalm 32:2. They are respectful, helpful and gracious to everyone and anyone.
People of integrity go the extra mile with a smile. They do more than is required of them, and are not afraid to ask for help, because they know God can be their strength each day. It is the person who doesn’t try to cut corners at other people’s expense—who can sleep well at night.
The Bible is full of references to integrity, character, and moral purity. In 1 Kings 9:4, God instructs Solomon to walk with “integrity of heart and uprightness” as his father did. David says in 1 Chronicles 29:17, “I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity.” And in Psalm 78:70-72 we read that “David shepherded them with integrity of heart, with skillful hands”.