A player takes action towards one or more individuals that could reasonably be expected to create a feeling of being harassed, threatened, bullied, or stalked.
For the purposes of identifying this infraction, it is important to consider whether or not a player’s conduct toward others might reasonably be expected to cause any of the above-listed feelings, and not necessarily that anybody has been actually made to feel any of those ways. For further illustration of this point, please see Sean Catanese’s excellent blog article.
Note that it is possible for a player to commit this infraction by potentially causing these feelings in individuals other than their opponent. Participants in other matches, spectators, or tournament officials are all potential recipients of the harmful effects of a player’s misconduct. The Match Loss penalty should be applied to the offending player even if the person potentially harmed by their actions is not their current round opponent.
Finally, it should be pointed out that actual incidents of Unsporting Conduct — Major are pretty rare. Local Magic communities tend to be very self-correcting even without the presence of judges. Basic social contract theory applies here; Magic players are humans, first. Most players already refrain from acting in ways that violate the communal agreements of society at large, so instances of this infraction are likewise unusual.
This may include insults based on race, color, religion, national origin, age, gender, disability, or sexual orientation.
Furthermore, the infraction doesn’t depend on whether or not anybody was actually made to feel any of these ways. The IPG has no way to measure or normalize how offended a person is. We, as judges, also do not want a player’s level of offense dictating the severity of a penalty as offense is highly subjective.
Similarly, a generic comment that merely annoys or offends another person is not necessarily sufficient for Unsporting Conduct — Major. Again, what’s important here is whether or not the action could reasonably create feelings of being harassed, threatened, bullied, or stalked. Here, too, judges must take care to make sure that their own personal likelihood to be offended doesn’t preclude their treating players fairly. Judges should be be mindful to neither over -nor under- penalize for Unsporting Conduct based on their own personal biases.
Threats of physical violence should be treated as Unsporting Conduct – Aggressive Behavior.
It is possible for an offender to commit this infraction without intending malice or harm to the subject of the harassment.
In fact, if a player committing Unsporting Conduct — Major does so with malicious intent, meaning they have acted with the specific intention of creating a toxic environment for others, then the penalty for this infraction should be upgraded to a Disqualification as explained below.
- A. A player uses a racial slur against their opponent.
- B. A player takes inappropriate photos of another player without express permission.
- C. A player asks a spectator for a date, is denied, and continues to press the issue.
- D. A player purposefully obstructs another player with the intent of inducing physical contact.
- E. A spectator uses social media to bully another player.
Z. After losing a game, a player physically threatens their opponent using a racial slur and saying they’ll see them in the parking lot.
While it is true that this certainly could be expected to cause feelings of harassment and threat, this is not Unsporting Conduct — Major because it more appropriately meets the definition of Aggressive Behavior. Threatening violence is a more serious concern and so takes precedence.
Y. After losing their match, a player throws their chair in anger at a group of spectators, but doesn’t actually hit any of them.
Again, this is not Unsporting Conduct — Major. Violence directed toward someone is more properly categorized as Aggressive behavior.
X. A player refuses to shake their opponent’s hand after losing a close game. The opponent, with no reason to believe otherwise, assumes that the refusal is due to their gender.
This is not Unsporting Conduct — Major or any other infraction, really. As said in the introduction to Unsporting Conduct, unsporting behavior is not the same as a lack of sporting behavior. Refusing a friendly handshake might not be very nice, but it isn’t actually against the rules.
W. A player opens their sealed pool and exclaims to themself in disgust, “These cards are gay!”
Once again, this is not Unsporting Conduct — Major, but does sound like it may be Unsporting Conduct — Minor. While statements like this are sure to offend some people, they are a lot less likely to cause feelings of being harassed, threatened, bullied, or stalked, as they are not specifically directed at anybody. Merely offending others is not sufficient for meeting the criteria for this infraction; in order for something to be considered Unsporting Conduct — Major, it must reasonably potentially cause one or more of these feelings. Note that in issuing the Unsporting Conduct — Minor infraction, the player should still be talked to about this behavior and told to knock it off.
V. A player in a losing position repeatedly shouts expletives to themself during their match and is issued a Warning for Unsporting Conduct — Minor. During the next round, that player continues to use the same expletives.
Similarly, this is not Unsporting Conduct — Major. Repeated infractions of Unsporting Conduct — Minor do not automatically upgrade the infraction to Unsporting Conduct — Major. Please refer to the Unsporting Conduct — Minor infraction in the IPG for guidance on dealing with recurrences of that error.
A safe environment is a basic expectation of any tournament attendee. Harassment undermines the safety and integrity of a tournament.
Players who purposefully create harmful or unwelcoming situations in a tournament are expected to immediately correct the behavior and demonstrate remorse or be removed.
Determining whether or not a player has demonstrated remorse requires at least a basic level of attentiveness and empathy. Statements such as “I’m sorry,” and “I shouldn’t have done that,” are good indications that a player regrets their actions and won’t repeat them. Conversely, statements like “it was just a joke,” or “this is ridiculous,” are potential red flags indicating that a player doesn’t yet understand the harmful implications of their behavior, or is simply not well-conditioned for participation in a non-threatening environment. Special care should be used by judges to ensure that infracting players disagreeing with or being upset over a Match Loss penalty are still separately given a chance to show remorse for their actions.
A player not demonstrating sincere remorse should be informed that continuing to not do so will result in their Disqualification. An ultimatum like “If you want to continue playing today, you’ll need to convince me that this isn’t going to be a problem again,” may be enough to prompt the regret and humility necessary for the player to be allowed to stay in the tournament. Note that, “I don’t agree with you, but I’ll stop,” should be an acceptable response.
Because of the confrontational nature of this infraction, judges need to end any match in progress and separate the players.
Care should be taken not to escalate the situation if at all possible. The offender will be removed from the area to receive the penalty, and education about why the behavior is unacceptable regardless of excuse.
It is important for judges to remember to themselves remain calm. When dealing with Unsporting Conduct — Major, a judge’s first priority is to de-escalate the situation, which will be difficult or impossible if that judge is angry, upset, or visibly nervous. Assessing the penalty should only be done once everything else is under control.
They may need a few moments to cool down afterwards.
Because the penalty for this infraction is a Match Loss, it is unlikely that issuing it will result in much delay to the entire tournament, even when significant time is needed to help the players cool down. Since the match is already over, an extension will usually not be required.
Apologizing is encouraged, but the desire of the other individuals to not interact with their harasser must be respected.
However, a player eager to apologize is a good indication that they are demonstrating enough remorse to be allowed to continue playing after receiving their penalty. This is true even if they are not given the chance to deliver it.
Officials must investigate these matters as soon as they are brought to their attention.
Note that because the penalty for this infraction is a Match Loss (or Disqualification), as with all penalties greater than a Warning, the Head Judge should be made aware before it is issued. However, the first priority when dealing with potential Unsporting Conduct — Major is de-escalation of the situation through separation of the players and calming of the people involved. Judges should make sure this goal is met before taking further action.
If they determine that the infraction does not meet the criteria for Unsporting Conduct – Major, it is still recommended that the players be talked to to avoid future misunderstandings.
Fostering a safe, non-threatening, family-friendly environment by talking to players about their unfriendly conduct is highly encouraged. Judges do not need to wait until a player actually commits an infraction before getting involved. Pro-activity on the part of judges – by listening for and intervening in intensifying situations – is always a good idea. Furthermore, players should usually be talked to about their own offensive behavior even if they are not receiving a penalty.
The player must correct the behavior immediately.
If the offense occurs at the end of a match, it is acceptable for the judge to apply the penalty to the next match instead.
As a rule of thumb, if a player committing Unsporting Conduct — Major has already won (or has not yet lost) the current match, the penalty should be applied to that round, with the judge updating match results as necessary. Conversely, if the player committing the infraction has already lost the current match, the penalty should be deferred to the next round, instead.
Note that this represents a very different philosophy from that of most other infractions found in the IPG. With most other errors, it is usually appropriate to apply the penalty to the game in which the mistake has been made regardless of either player’s board position or game record. For example, if a player commits a third Game Rule Violation, that player should almost always be assessed a Game Loss for the current game even if that player happens to be very far behind on resources, is facing lethal combat damage, or is otherwise about to lose. However, this is not true for Unsporting Conduct — Major.
The reason for this difference in philosophy is simple. Unlike most other infractions, it’s possible for a player to commit Unsporting Conduct — Major after a match has already ended, but before the players have left the table. If a player has already recorded a Match Loss through the normal course of play, but still manages to commit this error during that same round, applying the Match Loss immediately may fail to have the intended impact on the player, and probably won’t help illustrate that their actions were unacceptable. Some additional dispensation – being able to delay the penalty one round – is necessary to properly deliver justice in this case. Significant errors bear significant penalties.
If the offense was committed with malicious intent, the player displays no remorse, or the offense is repeated at a later time, the penalty is Disqualification and removal from the venue.
On the other hand, and to quote Sean Catanese, “A player who intends to intimidate or involuntarily control someone else with their actions, yet stops short of being outright aggressive or threatening (Aggressive Behavior), is still actively choosing to harm someone. That player does not belong in a Magic tournament.” Players fitting this profile should be disqualified and removed from the venue.
A player taking inappropriate photos of another player because they think it’s funny is probably not acting with malicious intent. A player taking these photos for the purpose of using them to publicly mock the subject probably is. A player continuously asking another player for a date because they think that they can convince them to change their mind is probably not acting with malicious intent. A player continuing to ask because they know it makes them feel uncomfortable probably is. A player using a racial slur because they are frustrated and angry is probably not acting with malicious intent. A player using a racial slur that is directed and targeted as an insult probably is.
The necessity to handle these two types of cases differently stems from the fact that penalties have their natural limits. Among other things, penalties serve to educate, and a Match Loss is supposed to help teach the lesson of proper social conduct. However, it’s likely that basic education will not be enough to correct a player who has chosen to commit Unsporting Conduct — Major maliciously; there may be deeper issues with them than simple ignorance. Sometimes Disqualification is the only suitable option.
The same can be said about players that neither show remorse nor refrain from repeating the same harmful behavior. Further education will probably not be effective for these players, either, so they should be disqualified, too.