The Ryder Cup is almost upon us and, regardless of the outcome, it is likely to produce another outpouring of Old World/New World bile. Both sides feel aggrieved about alleged unsporting behaviour; Americans hark back to the conduct of
Jose Maria Olazabal Seve Ballesteros, while Europeans got very upset about the American celebrations in 1999. However, golf has always been one of the most sporting of sports, and Wikipedia is of the view that Nicklaus conceding a two foot putt to Jacklin in the 1969 Ryder Cup was one of the great instances of sportsmanship.
Of course, sportsmanship can mean many things, and is frequently associated with simple good manners. But in general I would argue that true sportsmanship involves an action which entails the possibility that the consequence will be defeat, or the failure to achieve victory (as was the case with Nicklaus).
There are some good examples in some sports I know. In cricket there are many. While there are umpires to adjudicate whether a batsman is out, tradition has is that if you know you are out then you "walk", i.e. admit you are out, without waiting for the umpire's decision. The tradition is largely dead in international cricket, but remains quixotically upheld by Adam Gilchrist, one of the best Australian batsmen of recent years.
There is the famous example of the Italian bobsled team that were favourites for an Olympic gold medal but then gallantly lent their sled to their arch rivals whose sled was broken. Had they refused to do so they would have definitely won, but their rivals beat them using their sled.
A really nice example from soccer is captured in the link below. A recent tradition is that a team kicks the ball out of play if an opponent is injured and needs treatment. Once the player is up, his team then returns the ball the other team and play continues. A popular way to return the ball is to kick it to the goalkeeper- but in this case the Ajax player accidentally hits it over the goalkeeper's head and into the net. Cut and paste the link below to see the sporting response of the Ajax team.
I'd be interested to hear of any other good examples of sportmanship in the sense that I have used it.