The 3 types of cheating in sport

by Paul Thomas / 26 April, 2018

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Lance Armstrong. Photo/Getty Images

Lance Armstrong. Photo/Getty Images

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When it comes to cheating, there are the rules – and then there are the alternative rules.

Defining what constitutes cheating in any given sport enters a grey area, because beyond the official rules or laws of the game are unwritten rules that, by their nature, are neither universally acknowledged nor clear-cut.

The infamous underarm incident at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1981, the reverberations of which can still be felt, was within the rules as they applied to limited-overs cricket in Australia at that time. When Aussie captain Greg Chappell instructed his brother Trevor to roll the last ball of the game along the ground so it couldn’t be hit for a six that would have tied the game and the series, he did so with the full knowledge and acquiescence of the umpires.

Old-school (and unwritten) rules of fair play require batters who know they’ve edged the ball to the wicketkeeper to leave the crease without waiting for the umpire’s decision. The practice of standing one’s ground and hoping for a let-off is often justified on the basis that it’s simply leaving it to the umpires to do what they’re out there for. But in practice, it generally involves affecting nonchalance, if not an air of injured innocence, in the hope the umpire will make a mistake.

In 1978, at Wellington’s Basin Reserve, New Zealand gained its first-ever test victory over England, at the 48th attempt. A report on website NZHistory tells us this breakthrough was “enthusiastically welcomed as proof that New Zealand could at last compete with its former colonial masters”. But there is no mention that debutant New Zealand opening batsman John Wright nicked the first ball of the match to the keeper, didn’t walk, was given not out and went on to make 55 – in 348 minutes; test cricket was played at a rather more leisurely tempo in those days – the highest individual total posted by a Kiwi in what would be a low-scoring game.

Wright later explained his thinking thus: “I knew no one walked in test cricket and the thought of it never entered my head. There wasn’t much of a deviation and I didn’t think [the umpire] could’ve heard the snick with the wind blowing down the pitch. There was nothing wrong with [England fast bowler Bob] Willis’s hearing, though – he went spare and abused me roundly.”

Trevor Chappell. Photo/Getty Images

Trevor Chappell. Photo/Getty Images

The consensus around walking isn’t quite as solid as Wright suggests. When Australian wicketkeeper-batsman Adam Gilchrist decided, on the spur of the moment during a 2003 World Cup semi-final, to become a walker, he was praised by pretty much everyone except his teammates. (“There’s a time and a place for everything,” grumbled his captain, Ricky Ponting.) It reached the point that England fast bowler, now chief selector, Angus Fraser felt compelled to register his objection to Gilchrist’s “being canonised for not cheating”.

If members of a team don’t believe in walking, they can hardly get on their high horse if opponents follow suit, right? Wrong. In a test between Australia and England at Trent Bridge, Nottingham, in 2013, England’s Stuart Broad edged one to slip via the keeper’s gloves. He was given not out, a decision the Aussies couldn’t challenge because they’d used up their reviews. Broad made another 28 runs; England won the game by 14 runs.

Rather than take the view that them’s the breaks, you win some and you lose some, Australian coach Darren Lehmann, another casualty of the Cape Town ball-tampering affair, accused Broad of “blatant cheating” and sought to make him a hate figure when England toured Downunder later that year: “I hope the Australian public give it to him from the word go for the whole summer. I hope he cries and goes home. I don’t advocate walking but when you hit it to first slip, it’s pretty hard … Our players haven’t forgotten – they’re calling him everything under the sun.” This he saw as fit punishment for a player who did nothing that Australians had not done themselves.

What’s called cheating falls into three broad categories. At the lowest level, it’s done in plain sight – appealing for a catch that wasn’t; entering a ruck from the wrong side – and the match officials either overlook or miss it. Some would argue this isn’t cheating at all; it’s opportunism or gamesmanship.

At the next level, premeditation and covertness enter the picture: you make a conscious decision to attempt to secure an advantage by breaking the rules and breaching the spirit of the game while concealing your nefariousness from the match officials. The Australian ball-tampering falls into this category, as do most previous, far less severely punished instances: ball-tampering almost always involves an element of premeditation.

Then there is calculated activity undertaken in private away from the arena and designed to give the athlete or team an ongoing advantage over their rivals. American road cyclist Lance Armstrong, whose seven consecutive Tour de France victories were voided because of long-term doping offences, is perhaps the best known, most clear-cut example.

Former Aussie cricketing great Shane Warne, who said of the ball-tampering episode that “cheating is unaustralian”, was banned for a year in 2003 after testing positive for a banned substance – being a “drug cheat” in the parlance. One clear takeaway from this affair is that, for some time now, the Australian cricket community has been operating at a dangerously low level of self-awareness.

This article was first published in the April 21, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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