Sporting scandals indicate cheating epidemic

By Jenny Smith

Harlequins winger Tom Williams used a fake blood capsule to simulate an injury

The Singapore Grand Prix passed without major event in the end. The storm that threatened to add to the difficult driving conditions never materialised, the safety car only emerged once and had little effect on the race positions.

Lewis Hamilton racked up his second win of the season and the 16th of his career, while Jenson Button edged closer to the drivers’ title.

After a week of headlines about last year’s events, which the World Motor Sport Council deemed to be of “unparalleled severity”, the focus appears to be back on Formula One, with the crash conspiracy forming an unpleasant backdrop ready to take centre stage again when the next controversy comes to light.

Make no mistake that it will. Perhaps it will not be quite as scandalous as Nelson Piquet Jnr’s deliberate crash at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, which was planned by senior members of the Renault team as a strategy to bring about Fernando Alonso’s victory.

Just as the engineers calculate the optimum fuel levels, number of pit stops, use of hard and soft tyres, team principal Flavio Briatore and executive director of engineering Pat Symonds planned to force the introduction of the safety car, the only strategy which gave their top driver the chance of winning.

The hard facts are chilling and yet unsurprising. Cheating has become endemic in sport to the point where we even have accepted forms of it. The fielding team that appeals for an LBW or catch that they know is out, the defender who calls for a throw in knowing that he was the last person to touch the ball, they are just two of the examples that no-one bats an eyelid at.

They are small infringements, you might argue, but they contribute to the blurring of the line between right and wrong. Young footballers are taught to stick their hand up every time the ball goes out of play, in other words to deliberately mislead the referee. In their Sunday league competition, the effects may not be significant. In the Premier League, where millions of pounds are being exchanged every week, the stakes are a little higher.

Of course, that is what it all comes down to. Money.

Cash begets pressure begets a bending of the rules. Competitors, and the viewing public, are becoming desensitised to cheating. Symonds claims that “misguided devotion” led him to commit acts which common sense tells you are not only wrong, but dangerous and downright stupid. Dedication becomes the get-out clause for dishonesty.

“I am a competitive person who worked in a high pressure environment. This can, at times, cloud one’s judgement,” he said in a letter to the World Motor Sport Council.

Shocking as the conspiracy was, its blow was perhaps lessened by the scandal of the summer, now dubbed “bloodgate”, in which Harlequins winger Tom Williams used a fake blood capsule to simulate an injury which would allow the team’s kicker to replace him and score the winning points in a Heineken quarter final against Leinster.

Williams’ statement had similar overtones to Symonds’. “I realise the grave error of judgement that I made,” the 25-year-old said. “I hope that as a result of this episode no player, or employee, will ever be put in such a compromising position and, if they are, that they always tell the truth, as I wish I had done from the outset.”

These are extreme examples, on the opposite end of the scale to the attempts to influence officials, but the two remain on the same spectrum. As cheating continues to be accepted from the bottom up and our shock at incidents such as “bloodgate” becomes diminished with their frequency, corruption in sport could start to operate on new levels.

Every year more money is injected into the big sports, bringing with it mounting pressure on teams and individuals to exceed beyond expectations. If this does indeed lead to more cheating, our response to it may also adapt.

To make the point, the punishments handed out by governing bodies have to be as shocking as the incidents themselves. Both Williams and Piquet were rewarded for doing the right thing in the end. Williams received a year’s ban, while Piquet got a slap on the wrists and a damaged reputation.

Playing the victim card seems to be enough to avoid retribution, yet these two sportsmen’s complicity in their relative conspiracies is indicative of how ingrained cheating has become. They might have known it was wrong, but they feared the team more than the disciplinary boards.

Unless governing bodies take a hard line on it, competitors will continue to try to get ahead by deceptive means – it is human nature. The consequences must be more severe for them to think twice.


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