Principles of stakes fairness in sport

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Fairness in sport is not just about assigning the top prizes to the worthiest competitors. It is also about the way the prize structure itself is organised. For many sporting competitions, although it may be acceptable for winners to receive more than losers, it can seem unfair for winners to take everything and for losers to get nothing. Yet this insight leaves unanswered some difficult questions about what stakes fairness requires and which principles of stakes fairness are appropriate for particular competitions. In this article I specify a range of different principles of stakes fairness (ten in total) that could regulate sporting competitions. I also put forward a theoretical method for pairing up appropriate principles of stakes fairness with given sporting competitions. Specifically, I argue that the underlying rationales for holding sporting competitions can provide useful guides for identifying appropriate principles of stakes fairness. I then seek to clarify and work through some of the implications of this method for a sample of real world controversies over sporting prize structures. I also attempt to refine the method in response to two possible objections from indeterminacy and relativism. Finally, I compare and contrast my conclusions with more general philosophical debates about justice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)152-186
Number of pages35
JournalPolitics, Philosophy and Economics
Issue number2
Early online date15 Apr 2015
Publication statusPublished - May 2015


  • competition
  • distributive justice
  • sport
  • stakes fairness
  • winner-takes-all

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