This is when a character who wants to compete fairly and honestly is told not to do so by someone else. Sometimes, the character will be told to cheat in order to win. Other times, they will be told to deliberately lose. Both heroes and their antagonists can be in this position - all that's required is that their superiors or colleagues want the competition to be rigged for some reason. This reason is often just greed or pride, but doesn't have to be - there may be something genuinely important riding on the contest.
If the character is being asked to win dishonestly, it implies that their ability is being questioned (or else they'd be able to win fairly). Whether or not this lack of confidence is justified is variable - sometimes, it will be plain that cheating is the only way to win, but other times, the character will genuinely believe in their abilities, and may well say "I know I can do this!" before getting overruled by someone who disagrees or who wants to play it safe. Sometimes, one side thinks they have no choice but to cheat because the other side will.
When it's a hero who is ordered to win by whatever means necessary, they're quite likely to refuse. They'll often go ahead and win without cheating, demonstrating skill and honesty like the proper hero they are. This sometimes plays out with the hero initially appearing to lose, only for the bad guys to be exposed as cheats and stripped of their win. Less commonly, the hero will refuse to cheat and will really lose, preferring to keep their integrity intact even at the cost of their goal.
If a hero is ordered not to win, for some reason, their decision to comply will probably be based on whether it really is for a good cause. In some cases, especially ones where the hero is being tempted with bribes or threatened with retaliation, refusing to throw the game will be presented as honourable and courageous. Other times, though, deliberately losing may actually be presented as the morally correct choice, as the hero may be sacrificing their pride for a greater goal.
When it's a bad guy who is ordered to play dirty, their reluctance to do so may help build them up as a Worthy Opponent - they have genuine skill, and might even get along with the hero if they weren't on opposite sides. If ordered to cheat to win, they might perform at least a partial Heel-Face Turn by defying their orders at the last minute and giving the hero a fair shot.
The competition involved is often a sports event of some kind, so this often turns up as the main moral dilemma in a sports story. See also Unnecessary Roughness.
Compare Secret Test of Character.
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Anime And Manga
In Kitchen Princess, the director of the school Najika attends tells her to deliberately lose a competition between her and Seiya Mizuno (an up-and-coming young chef), promising to save the orphanage she grew up in from being torn down if she does.
In Yu-Gi-Oh!'s Battle City Finals, when Odion posing as Marik duels Joey, he at one point is poised to win the duel, before the real Marik orders him to use his (fake copy of) The Winged Dragon of Ra. Odion reluctantly complies. This does not end well, as the God (card) rains lightning on the duel, knocking them both out. They both recover, but Joey does fast enough to win the duel by TKO.
In Dragon Ball, during the 22nd World Tournament, Tien Shinhan finds that their master, the Crane Hermit, has been having Chaozu use his telekinesis to paralyze Goku during their fight. The Crane Hermit then orders Tien Shinhan to kill Goku while he's paralyzed. Tien Shinhan refuses.
An issue of the Tenchi Muyo! manga has Sasami attending an Iron Chef-like contest and is confronted by the assistant of a restaurant owner who wants to pass it over to his son if he won three in a row. He begs Sasami to throw the match because he wants the whole ordeal over with. Sasami can't live with the idea of giving up and keeps going.
Matt Murdock's father was told to throw a boxing match. He initially agreed to do so, only for his pride or self-respect to get the better of him, eventually winning anyway, which caused him to be killed by the Mob shortly afterwards.
More specifically, he grabs the last MacGuffin and gives it to Batman, the orders the Avengers to stand down and let the League win.
The Karate Kid. Evil Sensei John Kreese's students are basically the neighborhood tough guy/bullies. His philosophy of Karate can be summed up as "No Mercy". Daniel LaRusso, the titular Karate Kid, learns a much more balanced philosophy of karate. When it looks like LaRusso is going to take the All Valley Under 18 Karate Championship away from one of his students, Kreese first tells one student (who is fighting LaRusso in the semi-finals) to take him "out of commission", which the kid does by wrecking one of LaRusso's knees. The kid adamantly doesn't want to do it and apologizes afterwards... and he was DQ'ed. In the final bout, Kreese tells his favored student to "sweep the leg," which the student does. Naturally Daniel wins anyway.
The Continuity Reboot version of The Karate Kid was much more brutal about this, though. When Dre is taken down, the other kid holds his leg and does nothing but land elbow strikes repeatedly until the one spot is almost black with bruises. Unlike the example above, the kid doesn't directly apologize. Then the other instructor tells the next kid to break Dre's leg. Guess what happens.
The Color of Money, where Fast Eddie Felson tells Vincent to "dump" in one of his road matches, so as to prep him for a rich guy easy mark. Vincent, being the hothead egotist that he is (played by Tom Cruise), wins the match and loses the mark.
The Princess Bride. Vizzini orders Fezzik to kill The Man In Black with a boulder to the head while he's not looking; Fezzik, thinking it's unsportsmanlike, disobeys him and fights the Man In Black in a wrestling match instead.
Happens in The Longest Yard, when the Warden orders guard captain Knauer, who, while cruel, still believes in fair play, to play dirty. Specifically, he wants the guards' team to get a three touchdown lead and just kick the inmates' asses for the entire rest of the game.
The other version of this trope occurs too. The Warden, whose team of guards is losing to Paul Crewe's team of prisoners, tells Crewe to blow the game, threatening to frame him for the death of Caretaker and lock him up for life if he doesn't comply. At first Crewe goes along with it, but when the guard team keeps piling it on and he realizes he's hurting his friends, he starts to play for real again. His team wins, and the captain tells Crewe that he'll testify for him against the Warden in the case of Caretaker's death.
In the first The Bad News Bears movie, Buttermaker orders Rudy to lean in, get hit by the pitch, and "take one for the team". Rudy doesn't like it, but he does it.
A similar sequence happens in the second Major League movie, as Taylor puts in Dorn specifically because he knew this pitcher liked to bust him inside, so he had him step into one. Dorn does, then tries to stay in the game as a pinch runner is then brought in.
In the 2006 Speed Racer movie, the rival racer is a little ticked to find out that his sponsor installed an illegal hook on his vehicle. He ends up using it against Speed anyway. Indeed the whole plot of the movie revolves around the big corporations strictly controlling the finishing order of the races; Speed himself refuses to sign that kind of deal partway through the movie, instead choosing to stay indie and try to beat the system.
Butch (Bruce Willis) in Pulp Fiction is a boxer that has to run for his life because his ass didn't go down in the fifth as ordered.
Played with in Slumdog Millionaire. The host of the show slips Jamal the answer to a question during a bathroom break after Jamal has used his fifty-fifty lifeline. Suspicious of the host's motives, Jamal chooses the other remaining answer, guessing that the host deliberately gave him the wrong answer. Turns out Jamal is right.
The movie Diggstown has this in spades, on both the heroes' and villain's sides each trying to outdo, outbribe, and outcon the other in the protagonist's series of ten fights with amateur boxers. Two brothers are bribed by the protagonists to take a dive, but the first one does such a poor job that the second one is forced to try to win, or his brother will die. Another boxer is forced to leave the arena before stepping into the ring, tricking the protagonists into assuming that he forfeited. Two ringers are brought in to fight, sneaking through the loophole that, as inmates in the local prison, they are legally "residents" of the area. However, the final ringer has actually been bribed the protagonists to blatantly take a dive.
This is basically the entire premise of the movie Quiz Show.
All the contestants willingly and enthusiastically went along with the cheating, both in real life, and in the movie. (Especially in real life.)
The second The Cheetah Girls movie has this done by the Agent mother of one of the competitors. This includes having her daughter interact with Chuchi in order to split her off from the other girls, and even arranging for them to be paid at a performance in order to get them kicked out of the competition that they're in Barcelona for (which is only for amateurs; receiving payment makes them professionals). Her daughter ultmately calls her out on her behavior, saying that she doesn't want to win by cheating.
Implied in a throwaway scene in Hot Shots! Two characters are watching a boxing match and one comments to the other that both boxers work for the same promoter. The "fight" is over after one whiffed punch.
In The Boys in Company C, a group of US Marines are told that they can stay behind the lines, playing soccer (and presumably avoiding combat) if they lose to their South Vietnamese opponents, since this would help build public confidence in the South Vietnamese Army. After they deliberately give their opponents the lead, the other team starts taunting them. The Marines then proceed to kick their butts, and then line up to go back to their base, for reassignment in the field.
Central to the boxing subplot in Snatch. Turkish is under strict orders to make his boxer take the dive, which he passes on to Mickey... who is terrible at it. Because he has his own game in play that involves not diving. 'Orrible things ensue.
Million Dollar Baby has a rare sympathetic example of this. When it becomes clear that the referee is not going to disqualify Billie the Blue Bear for her repeated cheap shots, Frank tells Maggie to even the odds by going for Billie's sciatic nerve from an angle that the ref won't see. It seems to work. But then Billie gets an even dirtier hit in after the bell, knocking Maggie down onto her stool and breaking her neck.
In the first of Robin Hobb's Soldier Son books, the military academy to which the protagonist belongs has a policy of failing whole units based on their overall performance, rather than simply failing the individuals who perform poorly. One of the cadets therefore comes under considerable pressure to cheat in an exam for a subject he is known to be weak in. His resistance is resented by the cadets who believe that they'll be turned out of the academy if and when he fails.
Inverted in Unseen Academicals. Mr Hoggett would like nothing more than a fair game, but his team happens to be full of compulsive cheaters. He apologizes for his team's actions, and when the game is done he decks Andy Shank, the worst of the bunch.
Live Action TV
In the Babylon 5 episode "TKO", the boxer Walker Smith says that he was driven out of the sport because he refused to lose a fight when told to.
Directly parodied during the Board Breaking Guy's Web Redemption on Tosh0.
In one episode of Police Squad!, Frank was going undercover as a boxing coach. The Villain of the Week kidnapped the wife of the man Frank was coaching to force him to throw the fight. Frank rescued the girl, inspiring the boxer to win the match.
In one episode of Smart Guy, TJ becomes the coach of his high school basketball team and becomes increasingly competitive and cruel. This culminates in ordering Marcus to injure an opposing player and act like it was an accident.
In Porridge old lag Fletcher is forced to tell his cellmate that the prison baron wants him to take a dive in the fifth round of the prison boxing championship. Godber says he can't do it; before proving he has become more prison-smart by revealing that's because he's already promised a rival gangster to go down in the third.
In the Mahabharata, Bhima is only able to win his climactic mace duel against Duryodhana by striking his opponent in the thigh (which the Pandavas's mentor Krishna advises him to do by repeatedly slapping his own thigh). Duryodhana calls the Pandavas out for this, since strikes below the belt are illegal. Older Than Feudalism.
Interesting in that Krishna is an Avatar of Vishnu, one of the three most important gods in Hinduism. So basically, God ordered him (or gave him the idea to) to cheat.
In World of Warcraft, Instructor Rasuvius, a boss in Naxxramas actually says the trope's former title while training Death Knights, likely as a Shout-Out to the original.
Rival Team Member: I can beat him! I'm the better dancer!
Rival Team Boss: He's too good. You take him out. Or I take you out.
In Hey Arnold!, Arnold is told to lose a spelling bee by Helga's father, in exchange for a check for the prize money. That's because Helga's dad had said that if she doesn't win the spelling bee, he'd have a huge sale at his store. When it comes down to the final round, Helga's dad gets nervous and tries to bribe Arnold. Helga catches him doing it, and proceeds to lose on purpose to humiliate her father.
Subverted in King of the Hill, Season 12, Suite Smells of Excess. Hank was told to give misleading orders to a rival football team, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, so that his football team, Texas Longhorns, would win. Hank was reluctant at first, but then went on with it when he remembered that it was to help Texas. The rival football team won anyways.
He also did it because his son, Bobby, started liking football and he wanted him to continue liking football. Plus, he already broke a lot of laws (buying tickets from a scalper and taking over a retired Nebraska football player's VIP suite) trying to get Bobby to like football so he had nothing to lose.
Seen in the Simpsons episode where Lisa is in a spelling bee. The organizer tells her to throw her word that could win her the bee (with the promise of a fully paid college education and a hot plate), because the governing body wants to use her adorably geeky rival in advertising. In a bout of defiance, she exposes the con, then proceeds to lose anyway.
Speed Racer X: Speed entered a race against an opponent who wanted to win fair and square but the Big Bad coerced him into trying to get rid of Speed.
In the Rocket Power movie "Race Across New Zealand", the protagonist's rival is told by his dad to cheat by taking a shortcut to the finish line during the last event (just like he did when he competed years ago). He does so and wins the event. However, he ends up confessing what he did immediately afterwards, causing his dad to snap at him and unintentionally confess in front of everyone that he cheated the same way years ago.