Many will have been tempted! Stolen a glance at our neighbour’s exam paper in a crowded school hall, used fake ID to sneak into a back-street nightclub, maybe even booked into a low-budget motel off the M56 with a lady companion when our missus is out of town. Cheating, however it manifests itself, will always be part of our society. Not least on the sports field. From the drug-taking sprinter to the swan-diving centre forward, sportsmen and women over the years have sought new ways to give themselves, or their team, an unfair competitive advantage. No form of cheating should be condoned, but can the ends ever justify the means? In modern day sport, when competition is so fierce and so much is at stake, perhaps winning at all costs becomes more important than winning honestly.
Cheat (n) – a person who behaves dishonestly in order to gain an advantage.
It’s a very broad term. Surely, though, there is a distinction between the blatantly premeditated cheating of Boris Onischenko and Lance Armstrong, and the natural instinct of Luis Suarez and Stuart Broad. Add to this the now weekly display of simulation from players in the Premier League, and we seem increasingly unable to differentiate between fair play, professionalism, gamesmanship, and cheating itself.
Soccer City, Johannesburg, July 2nd 2010, 10pm. A goal-bound header from Dominic Adiyiah looks to be sending Ghana to the semi-finals of the World Cup; the first African side to do so in history. Enter Luis Suarez. A blatant punch of the ball to prevent the goal leads to a red card, and a penalty for the Black Stars. We all know how the story goes from here; Asamoah Gyan fluffs his lines, Uruguay triumph in the resulting shootout, a united Africa’s dreams are crushed, and Suarez becomes the most hated man in world football. It will go down as one of the most heinous crimes in the history of the game. But was it? Did ‘El Pistolero’ cheat, or simply take one for the team? He made a split-second decision. There was no premeditation, no planning. It was pure instinct. Perhaps it’s naïve of us to think we wouldn’t have done it ourselves to win the match for Queen and Country. Say what you like about Suarez, but he’s a winner.
Onischenko on the other hand is no winner; and the story of ‘Boris and his Magical Blade’ from the ’76 Montreal Olympic Games is worthy of the Brothers Grimm. The Soviet pentathlete had modified his épée for the fencing event so he could register a touch without making any contact with his opponent. This was no split-second decision from the Ukrainian. This involved months of planning and preparation to guarantee victory on the biggest stage. When discovered, Onischenko was disqualified, sent home, and ostracised for his premeditated cheating.
Not so clear cut, but a mix of premeditation and opportunism, was the Bloodgate affair for which former England Rugby International Dean Richards’ reputation was badly tarnished. He was punished with a three year ban, but, forgivingly, was courted with a range of attractive and lucrative offers upon his return.
As the old saying goes, “cheats never prosper.” Maybe it’s time to admit that they do. The antics of footballers from Old Trafford to the local park are there for all to see. You’d think the turf at the Nou Camp was that of the Somme judging by the screams of the wounded. An exaggerated stumble here, an appeal there, all to try and swing the game in their favour. Although this may provoke strangled cries from the terraces of “we wuz robbed!” it can also prove to be the difference between success and failure. On balance it’s probably worth it. The same goes for Suarez’s instinctive cheating, Stuart Broad too. Refusing to walk is anathema to cricket purists, but Broad stood his ground against the Aussies and went on to make 65. England won the match, and then the Ashes.
The ends probably don’t justify the means when cheating is premeditated. A lifetime ban for Armstrong for doping, stripped of all his titles, now a sporting pariah (even though he’ll always have his ‘Dodgeball’ cameo). A career as a taxi driver in Kiev for ‘Disonischenko.’ There’s a malicious side to premeditated cheating that does not sit well with the general public, perhaps there’s a line between playing the pantomime villain and deceiving a nation.
Where do you stand? Do you think the ends always justify the means? Who knows, that’s why it makes such a good debate over a pint in your local.
– James Mackay.