strike posted an update 3 weeks, 5 days ago
Radio 4 was reporting how seriously they are taking the ball tampering in the Australian test match, to the point where the transgressor may not play test cricket again. How does this incident stack up against a blatant dive in the penalty area, or a handball such as Thierry Henry’s, whereby he doesn’t own up to it if it isn’t seen. Ball tampering seems no worse to me compared with what goes on in football.
It’s rife in every sport and in every country. My colleague who lives in Nigeria and with his daughters, plays tennis at state level, says that one of the biggest frustrations for his daughters is that African parents commonly bribe the passport officer to under-declare their child’s age so that his daughter aged 14 ends up playing a girl aged 15 or 16. Remember those 50 African refugee children who were admitted to the UK and who looked surprisingly mature, beards and all? Then they come to England for the summer holidays, enter local competitions as mixed-race outsiders and find that the local public school tennis champions seem to benefit from an awful lot of the doubt when it comes to scoring and umpire judgements. Very frustrating.
Tampering is premeditated and has to be organised. Diving is premeditated in the sense that everybody knows it’s going to happen but not in an organised way like tampering.
What interests me is the psychology of cheating in professional sport. How do otherwise mainly decent people justify behaviour which deliberately breaks both the spirit but the laws of the game?
Clearly the high stakes are the prime motivation to push the limits of the laws of a game. But it strikes me that there is a conspiracy of hypocrisy and silence. The media contrives to pretend that sport, even football, maintain some sort of corinthian purity. Most participants know that this is crap as do the ex-players who make up much of the media. What is acceptable is what is deniable.
Australian cricketers purport to “play hard but within the rules”. What this actually means, as it has for decades, is to bend and break the rules as far as they can. Other teams have generally accepted this because they are also culpable. If England or SA spill the beans on what they suspect then the evidence will be brought out of their own transgressions. This is true across sport.
Even at this stage the Australian cricket authorities make all the right pious noises but that’s all they are. In reality coach Lehman and his colleagues have been part of the problem for decades. And so have their opposition. They are all, the professional sports community, laughing inwardly at the naivety of the paying public that apparently subscribes to outdated concepts of sportsmanship, encouraged by a complicit media to believe that the concept still exists.
Because “they are all in it together” the professional sports community neither sees much wrong with their cheating nor acknowledges it.
Football people treat cheating as “part and parcel”, whereas cricket sets itself higher standards.
I’m sure performance enhancing drugs are used routinely in professional football. Nobody gives a shit about that – they barely even get tested.
Once money enters the equation fair play and sportsmanship seem to take a back seat.
Cheating at sport really does seem strange – but then cheating at anything seems strange to me.
With regards to “cheating” at sport I do laugh when I’m at a kids cycle race, see all the kids (under 10’s) rolling around the course on top of the range bikes, light as a feather, yet all within the approved guidelines – I do then wonder where it will all stop, at what point will their parents stop encouraging them within the limits and start offering them PED’s to improve performance etc. (or perhaps even the kids will ask for it, to enable them to beat their mates etc.)
but then what is cheating? staying on one side of an arbitary drawn up code of rules?
Perhaps rugby might be a good sport to look at for this, rather than football.
I don’t think I can explain it very eloquently but I will try (probably because I am no longer familiar with the exact nuances of the rules).
In rugby, during the game, part of the ‘game’ is to try and take actions that are to your advantage (handling the ball during the breakdown, being slightly offside etc.) which will result in a penalty if caught. Rugby players don’t ‘not do these things’ (as the rules would try and impose) but try to ‘not get caught doing these things’.
Within the game of rugby this isn’t seen as ‘cheating’. Tampering with a ball in cricket is definitely seen as cheating. Both are technically against the rules.
This scandal and another one have had me thinking, a lot, about people and the nature of competition.
The “other one” erupted on Monday in the Go / Weiqi / Baduk community. In case you don’t know, Go is a mind-sport, an abstract board game, in which players take turns to place stones to surround the area of a square board. The player who surrounds more of the board wins the game but beware the inclination to greed lest you leave a weakness in your borders.
I have been playing it since 2007. It was the game that Google’s DeepMind Team conquered in March 2016 when their A.I., “AlphaGo”, became the first bot to defeat a professional at the very apex of the sport.
On Monday, this week, the first conviction for cheating using A.I. was handed down to a European amateur who had allegedly cheated in the Euro. Team Champs — a tournament in which teams from European and European-observing countries (South Africa, Australia and Israel and others…) compete over the Internet.
Whether the referees decision was right or wrong, whether the accused did cheat or not (both are perfectly plausible), it doesn’t matter. This has pulled open the glass door, as the Germans would say, and the mind-sport now needs contingencies. Our formerly trusting and open community must now look to Chess and adopt their venue-wide technology bans and supervised bathroom breaks. Chess’ story tells us that Internet-facilitated competitive play is dead in the water until our technology becomes fast and cheap enough to use it for automated cheater detection.
The result will be a far cry from the innocent, naive and trusting atmosphere that has prevailed, up until now, even at tournaments with monetary prizes.
None of this is the point, however.
In truth, I am absolutely gutted by the idea that the accused actually did it. The evidence seems sketchy to me and he maintains his innocence but don’t they all? He could be as guilty as sin and I could be in denial.
But he’s no pro. He’s a dan-level amateur, stronger than I am, today, but not outside of my own aspirations. He didn’t attain that rank in two years. He was already strong long before the algorithms became what they are, today.
I’ve been playing for a decade and probably spend at least a dozen hours a week studying the game. Mostly, I don’t spend more because of the emotional toll that this game takes. It is the only game I have ever played that continues to haunt my dreams after a tournament day, eleven years after it was novel to my imagination.
In Go, one does not play to defeat their opponent but to defeat their own shortcomings: greed, fear, impatience, aggression…
How can one invest so much in such a pursuit without love for the art and how can one who loves the art enough to get so strong throw it all away for the sake of a point on a tally?
I just don’t get it. I don’t understand.
Presumably, cricketers do not become international bowlers in a day. They, too, must hold some love for their art, surely? Cyclists must hold a love for the work? Do footballers see the game as a job?
Perhaps this is as much the reason why I will always be an amateur in my sports as that which dictates that I could never be a CEO, VC or hedge-fund manager. I see how the game is played. I see the “rules” — not the written ones but those that say that cheating and exploitation are only a crime if one gets caught. Don’t get caught.
I touchingly hope that diving in football may go out of fashion. Messi is a shining example of a player who tries to ride tackles and frequently scores by keeping going when everyone on the pitch stops because they expect him to go down. It was noticeable in the England- Italy match the other night that Sterling twice got back on his feet rather than doing a dying swan act and carried on after being chopped -‘playing his own advantage’ as the commentator put it – and it led to the England goal.
Of course Delle Alli wasn’t playing, a man who could give Tom Daley diving lessons