Unfair! I won, I won! Give me another go!

Losing lousily: Six of history’s best known bad losers.

Is losing as important as winning? President Trump’s refusal to concede defeat in the US election has attracted widespread criticism. Here we rank the 10 worst losers of all time.

1 Donald Trump The gracious acceptance of defeat in a presidential race is a long-held American tradition, considered vital for maintaining national unity. Instead, Trump’s continued accusations of electoral fraud have made the contest even more toxic.

2 Catiline In 63BC, after losing the election to become consul, the Roman politician devised a plot to overthrow the government, which involved murdering many senators. After his plot was discovered by Cicero, he fled Rome to lead a rebel army, and was killed in battle.

3 Henry VIII The irascible king did his best to persuade the Pope to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. When the Pope said no, Henry rejected his authority and began the English Reformation. He also executed Thomas More for taking the Pope’s side.

4 Queen Grimhilde When her magic mirror tells her that her stepdaughter Snow White is more beautiful than she is, the evil queen orders Snow White to be murdered. Her husband eventually discovers her misdeeds, and in the Grimm Brothers’ version makes her dance in red-hot shoes until she drops dead.

5 Alexander Lukashenko The Belarusian politician is generally believed to have lost the presidential election in August, but manipulated the results to pretend he won. The EU, US, Britain and Canada have all refused to recognise his new government. He has said that there will be no more elections “until you kill me”.

6 Ajax In the Iliad, the Greek hero claims the magical armour of Achilles after the latter has been killed by Paris. But Odysseus claims it too, and wins a competition to decide between them. Ajax then goes mad with fury and slaughters a herd of cattle, mistaking them for his enemies.

7 John McEnroe Notorious for arguing when decisions were given against him, the tennis star once told an umpire he was “the pits of the world”, and will forever be associated with the phrase: “You cannot be serious!” Now a calmer character, he has become a respected BBC commentator.

8 Jeremy Corbyn The former opposition leader insisted he had “won the argument” in last year’s parliamentary election, despite securing Labour’s worst result since 1935. He has now been suspended from the party for refusing to accept the findings of its anti-semitism enquiry.

9 Byun Jung-il The South Korean boxer was so angry at losing to Bulgaria’s Aleksandr Hristov that he sat down and refused to leave the ring. When he had been there for over an hour, the organisers turned the lights out and left him in darkness.

10 Neymar With his team Paris Saint-Germain losing 1-0 to Marseille, the Brazilian footballer was sent off in the final minute for hitting his opponent Alvaro Gonzalez on the back of the head. He then claimed that he had been racially abused by Gonzalez – but the committee that investigated found no evidence of this.

Is losing as important as winning?

Compete or defeat?

Some say, no. In an ultra-competitive world, we need to win at all costs, and refusing to accept defeat is key to that. Donald Trump is right not to concede the election, because his core supporters will love him all the more for it, and their approbation is more important to him than the rest of the world’s disapproval. Nobody remembers the person who comes second.

Others argue that some of the most successful people ever have suffered defeats, and you learn far more from losing than from winning. Resilience is a vital quality in life. After the Second World War, Lord Mountbatten claimed that: “D-Day was won on the beaches of Dieppe”, because the Allies had been taught so many valuable lessons by their disastrous earlier raid.

You Decide

  1. Has the introduction of VAR to settle disputes in football matches made the game any better?
  2. If you were one of Donald Trump’s close advisers, what would you say to him in the current situation?


  1. Draw a cartoon portraying one of the people mentioned here as a child who has lost a game in the playground.
  2. Write a story about someone who deliberately loses an important contest.

Some People Say...

“Show me someone without an ego, and I'll show you a loser. Having a healthy ego, or high opinion of yourself, is a real positive in life.”

Donald Trump (1946-), American politician

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that society places less emphasis on being a good sport than it once did. It used to be that people accepted defeat graciously and played fairly because they suffered so much stigma if they did not. But in modern times more importance is attached to winning, and the financial rewards it brings – which is why so many sports stars cheat instead of relying on their own enormous talent.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate is around whether accepting defeat is a good strategy for long-term success. The psychologist Jordan Peterson argues that it is: children who are bad losers will find that others are reluctant to play with them, and adults are reluctant to teach them, so they lose the chance to develop. Many believe that Trump’s current behaviour has ruined any chance he might have had of running for president again.

Word Watch

The name given to the two magistrates who had supreme authority in the Roman Republic. They were elected annually.
Considered one of the greatest orators of all time, he had defeated Catiline in the consular election.
Hot-tempered. It derives from the Latin word “ira”, meaning anger.
Thomas More
The English lawyer, philosopher and statesman is considered a martyr and venerated in the Catholic Church as a saint.
Grimm Brothers
Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm were 19th Century experts on folklore who collected traditional German stories. Many of the fairy tales we have now are less violent versions of the ones they published.
An epic poem about the siege of Troy by Greek forces. It is attributed to Homer, and probably dates from the 8th Century BC.
The Greeks’ greatest hero. The only vulnerable part of his body was his heel – hence the expression “an Achilles heel”, meaning a weak spot.
A Trojan prince who caused the war with the Greeks by stealing Helen, the beautiful wife of King Menelaus of Sparta.
The most cunning of the Greek leaders. The Odyssey, an epic poem about the 10 years he spent trying to return home after the Trojan War, is also attributed to Homer.
In August 1942 a combined British and Canadian force attacked this port in German-occupied France. But their plan went badly wrong, and the Canadians in particular suffered heavy casualties.

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