Cheating is simply a part of sport

Ryan O'Connell Columnist

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Glenn Mitchell says it's time for James Hird to give it up, and leave his post. (Photo: Sean Garnsworthy/AFL Media)

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Cheating is the hot topic in sport at present. Apart from the drawn-out ASADA investigations into the Cronulla Sharks and the Essendon Bombers, we’ve also read about allegations of match-fixing against ex-New Zealand star all-rounder Chris Cairns.

Meanwhile, no World Cup can be held without the dreaded ‘c’ word being uttered.

Australian star Tim Cahill accused Chile of cheating in their match versus the Socceroos. There’s also the obligatory footage of Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ goal from the 1986 World Cup, which is shown ad nauseam every four years.

Shockingly, it seems like cheating is everywhere in sport, yet the real shock to me is that people are actually shocked.

Cheating is simply a part of life, even outside of sport.

Extramarital affairs. False tax returns. A spare ace up your sleeve. Election promises that were never going to be kept. Insider trading. Dying your greying hair.

Cheating happens, folks, especially in sport. In fact, it happens all the time in sport.

A bowler appealing for a caught-behind when he knows the batsman didn’t hit it. A striker taking a dive in the goal square. A rugby league winger claiming a try when he knows he has knocked the ball on. A blindside flanker continually slowing down the ball. A basketballer flopping for a charge call.

All are forms of cheating.

Those examples are all on the lower end of the scale, but if you step away from the playing arena, that’s when the high-level cheating can be discussed. Just ask the Melbourne Storm or the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs.

Cheating is everywhere, and it happens all the time.

Heck, occasionally the cheating isn’t even intentional. Rugby league teams have been penalised for accidentally having 14 players on the field, and there have been a number of fielders in cricket who have claimed a catch when replays clearly show that it was ‘grassed’.

Sometimes the cheating is so whacky, it’s humorous.

At the 2000 Summer Paralympics in Sydney, the Spanish basketball team were stripped of their gold medal, after it was revealed that the intellectually disabled squad were not actually intellectually disabled.

It was alleged that the Spanish Federation of Sportspeople with the Intellectually Disabilities (FEDDI) deliberately chose to sign up athletes who were not intellectually disabled to win more medals and gain more sponsorship.

Staggering.

In 2009, rugby club Harlequins were found guilty of using blood capsules in order to make strategic substitutions for players during the Heineken Cup. You know a scandal has made the big time when it gets awarded ‘gate’ status, and the story is now know as ‘Bloodgate’.

Bloody hell.

When it comes to whacky cheating stories, they don’t get much crazier than Tonya Harding’s. The American figure skater hired a hitman to assault her biggest competitor Nancy Kerrigan, so that Harding could win the 1994 US Figure Skating Championships and qualify for the 1994 Winter Olympics team.

How that plotline hasn’t been made into a movie yet is beyond me.

Faking disability, blood capsules, and hiring a hitman to take out your competition may all seem a little bizarre, but they do indicate the levels that some individuals will go to in order to gain an advantage.

There are certainly various degrees of cheating, and not all forms are equal, but it’s been happening for centuries, and will no doubt occur for centuries more.

Trying to gain an advantage is what competitive sport is all about.

Sadly, cheating is as unfortunate as it inevitable. I’m not saying it should ever be condoned or accepted. It should be dealt with swiftly, before moving on just as swiftly, but it’s always going to exist, so it shouldn’t really be a surprise when it’s revealed.

Why? Because as long as we revere athletes, put them on a pedestal, and shower them in adulation, we’ll have people aspiring to be athletes. And with aspiration comes motivation. Mix motivation with questionable ethics, and you’ll have cheats.

Likewise, when club CEOs, coaches, doctors, etc, are rewarded by winning, those with a slightly questionable moral compass start to look at any ways to improve their team’s performances.

I’d dearly love for all sport to be clean and devoid of cheating, but sadly that’s just never going to be the reality.

Now, where is that hair dye?

Ryan is an ex-representative basketballer who shot too much, and a (very) medium pace bowler. He's been with The Roar as an expert since February 2011, has written for the Seven Network, and been a regular on ABC radio. Ryan tweets from @RyanOak.
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