The clock is ticking down to full time and the score is locked at 1-1. Suddenly, the opposition goalkeeper falls to the ground injured and the ball is crossed to you inside the penalty area. The net is gaping. What do you do?

No foul has been committed and if you shoot there is a good chance you will score – and seal a last-gasp victory for your team. Your fans will adore you.

When such an opportunity presented itself to Premier League star Paolo di Canio, the West Ham striker confounded expectations. Instead of shooting, Di Canio caught the ball and brought the referee’s attention to Everton’s stricken goalkeeper, Paul Gerrard, who was writhing in agony having dislocated a knee.

The Italian’s actions were arguably all the more remarkable due to his chequered playing history. Di Canio was banned for 11 games for throwing a referee to the ground, but on this occasion the player was rewarded with a FIFA Fair Play award for outstanding sportsmanship.

The character and virtues (or lack of them) of footballers are never far from the headlines; the culmination of this year’s Premier League campaign, mired by allegations of unsporting behaviour, is no different.

What are we to make of Jamie Vardy, the talismanic striker for title-winning Leicester City, everyone’s second favourite team this season?

The England player was sent off after picking up a second yellow card, for diving, against West Ham. His furious reaction, including jabbing a finger at the referee, saw his one-match ban extended to two at a crucial time of the season.

Vardy’s on-field commitment has not been in doubt this season and he has displayed laudable virtues of resilience, focus and service, working tirelessly for his club and its fans.

But in that one game against West Ham, the player’s actions illustrated what can go wrong when virtues clash. What happens when ambition, the strong desire to do or achieve something successfully, clashes with the virtues of integrity and honesty? In Vardy’s case, the conflagration led to him diving (at least in the ref’s eyes) – and a red card.

Vardy’s remonstration with the referee, following the red card, led to his suspension being extended to two games. He did not, therefore, play in Leicester’s, then, crucial home win versus Swansea, or the draw with Manchester United. At the time of receiving the suspension, there was a distinct threat that his absence could derail Leicester’s tilt at the title. Ultimately, though, this was unfounded, and Leicester were crowned champions with Tottenham failing to beat Chelsea; Vardy leading the players’ celebrations at his own house.

Swapping the pitch for the classroom, the Jubilee Centre aims to help pupils navigate their way through this complex terrain of moral virtue with a new programme called Teaching Character Through The Primary Curriculum. A comprehensive package of engaging learning resources, due to be launched soon, is designed for Year 6 pupils, aged 10-11, as they stand on the cusp of progressing to secondary education.

The lesson plans, which look at specific virtues, are in line with the Centre’s promotion of character education in schools and are intended to help the children make a smoother transition to secondary school by developing their practical wisdom, or phronesis.

The programme draws on the Centre’s extensive Knightly Virtues research and draws on the requirement, expressed by parents, teachers and schools, to “teach basic moral virtues to pupils such as honesty, self-control, fairness and respect, while fostering behaviour associated with such virtues.”

Self-contained lessons on key curriculum subjects focus on a primary virtue and several secondary virtues. For PE, pupils look at athletics and sport, including dilemmas drawn from football. Integrity, a key moral virtue, is the main topic of the lesson, but pupils will also touch on issues relating to honesty, courage and service.

One of the “what would you do?” moral dilemmas for class discussion is as follows:

“You are playing football and you go to head the ball, and it accidently hits your hand and goes into the goal. The referee didn’t see your hand and the goal is given.”

The temptation would be to punch the air in celebration and return to your half of the pitch for the game to restart. You might even be in line to pocket a bonus for scoring a goal. But is this the sort of behaviour we want our young people to emulate?

In fact, this lesson scenario is drawn from real life and relates to Germany’s all-time leading goalscorer Miloslav Klose. The World Cup winner, then playing in Italy for Lazio, went to head the ball for a goal but it touched his hand on the way into the net.

The referee awarded a goal, but Klose then ran to the referee and told him the ball had struck his hand. The goal was disallowed – and Klose’s team went on to lose 3-0 to Napoli, for whom Edinson Cavani scored a hat-trick.

The headlines the following day were not about Cavani’s goals. It was Klose’s name and selfless deed that dominated reports and YouTube traffic.

The Teaching Character Through The Primary Curriculum programme aims to highlight such dilemmas, using real life situations, providing young people with the skills they need to reflect and make wise choices.

After all, winning isn’t everything. It’s how you take part.

Michael Fullard, Teaching Fellow, Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues

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