Cheating to Win

 

The recent furore surrounding the Australian cricket team and their somewhat clumsy, amateurish even, attempts to cheat on the field pf play has occupied my mind during recent days.

The rancour that has greeted the downfall of Australian sporting integrity is interesting. Schadenfreude, as I suggested in another piece I published.

As the fury of the media, the sponsors, and the fans recedes there will be calmer thoughts, more deliberate opinions, perhaps remedial measures of one sort or another will be implemented. Australian cricket will feel the impact of the actions of a few misguided players as both the sponsors and the fans want their pound of flesh. The players too will feel the backlash, although they will find the public are far more forgiving than it might feel at the moment. Even Hansie Cronje, before and after his untimely death, was forgiven and rehabilitated in many minds and hearts despite bringing the world of cricket to its collective knees.

Personally, I wonder whether all the thoughts, all the anger, all the remedial measures suggested, perhaps implemented, will do anything about the very root cause of the win-at-all-costs desire that drove Steve Smith and his cohorts to cheat?

Let me be very clear on this one. I do not believe that the win-at-all-costs ethos is the root cause of the problem. It is certainly the motivator, but not the root.

If it were the very root of the problem, then the win-at-all-costs motive would surely have driven sporting giants like golf’s Jack Nicklaus or Gary Players, the Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borgs, and John McEnroes of tennis, rugby’s Colin Meads, Gareth Edwards, and Willie-John McBrides, the George Bests and Peles of football to step over the line and cheat.

There is no evidence that they ever did.

Have no doubt that the white-hot heat of a Connors versus McEnroe encounter was no less rancorous, no less intense, no less furious, than a game of Ashes cricket between Australia and England. The desire, the total need to win was there too. Yet neither of those two tennis greats would have stooped to cheating in order to win a game.

When Gareth Edwards scored one of the greatest tries in the history of rugby, for the Barbarians against the All Blacks, cheating was the furthest thing from the minds of any one of the rugby players on that field. When true giants of the game, Willie-John McBride and Colin Meads met on the rugby field the intensity, the heat, the focus, and the physical endeavour was of epic proportions. They went at each other with the intensity of two bull elephants fighting for supremacy over the herd. Yet neither would have thought for one moment that cheating would be the edge that would give one or the other victory.

Neither Nicklaus nor Player would have tried to alter their scorecard, or moved a ball closer to the hole or into a better lie, it was not their way of doing things.

Those great sporting contests of the past were gladiatorial in every aspect. Furious, angry, epic, but fair. Cheating was not part of the contest.

Where then the modern tendency to cheat?

The Edge?

Certainly, players, sportsmen and women, have constantly sought the edge that would give them victory. They have pushed the outer envelope of science, they have driven themselves beyond physical boundaries. They have tested credibility too.

Lasse Virren, the great Finnish athlete who won double gold medals on the track in the 5000m and 10000m at the 1972 and 1976 Olympics was accused of using “blood boosting” or “blood doping” techniques to boost the red cell count in his blood stream, and thus increase the oxygen carrying capacity of his blood. This technique, which involved drawing blood and storing it in a fridge before reinfusing it back into the body just before the start of a sporting event, showed a 25% increase in stamina after a transfusion.

Viren always denied the claims, saying that altitude training and “reindeer milk” were the keys to his enhanced performance.

Some of his teammates did later confess to blood doping, however, most notably Kaarlo Maaninka at the 1980 Olympics.

Nobody was sanctioned for blood boosting at the time, as it was not illegal in terms of the Olympic rules.

Back in those days anti-doping efforts were focussed more on amphetamines and anabolic steroids.

The IOC banned blood doping in 1985.

However, by the time they banned the activity, the sports scientists had moved on to genetically engineered EPO, a difficult to detect drug that increases the number of red blood cells more gradually and naturally than a blood transfusion. Scientific developments such as EPO gave athletes a synthetic edge, and the winning motive, the desire to win, undoubtedly increased the use of such methods. These have now also been banned.

I use the example of blood-boosting or doping merely to illustrate that athletes will do whatever they believe necessary to give them the edge, physical or mentally, in their pursuit of victory.

Technology.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the impact of Technology on the game of rugby. Another example of players and teams looking for the edge, the something extra, that will bring them success, victory.

Sports men and women will try anything that will give them an edge in competition. They will try super-foods, they will try psychological coaching and sleep therapy. They will try every kind of training regimen, they will wear specialised clothing, they will drive themselves, they will deprive themselves. All in pursuit of victory.

And none of these methods are in any way or form illegal or contrary to the spirit of sporting endeavour.

Crossing the Line.

But sportsmen and women will cross the line of legality too. They will use performance enhancing drugs, and masking drugs to hide the former.

They will use anything and everything they can find to give them the edge. They will even stoop to assault!

Tonya Harding (or her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly, we will never know the whole truth) arranged for her opponent, Nancy Kerrigan’s leg to be damaged so that she could not take part in the 1994 Winter Olympics. This would benefit Harding, both in the selection of the US squad, and at the Olympics themselves.

That is how desperate athletes will become in order to win.

They will cheat….

They will alter the state of a cricket ball………….

Win at all costs…….. Why?

Modern sport has seen cheats exposed at almost every level of activity. Russian athletes are barred from both the Summer and Winter Olympics for purported state sponsored doping.

Of course, the fingers have been pointing at Russia (and the previous USSR) for decades. They produced some remarkably male-looking female athletes during those Cold War times, athletes that dominated all female sporting events… for the glory of the Union.)

There have been reports of similar state-sponsored doping regimens in China.

A sporting giant, Lance Armstrong, a man whom was revered by millions for his tenacity, his guts, his steely determination and uncompromising will to win. And then he was exposed as nothing more than a cheat.

Ben Johnson runs the fastest Olympic 100m in history, and is found out as a cheat.

Professional football players are master divers, attempting to milk a penalty or free kick out of nothing. They are cheats, visibly so too.

Weightlifters, water-polo players, archers, sprinters and long-distance athletes, soccer, rugby, baseball and cricket. You name the sport, and there are cheats.

I am not talking about the third league slip fielder who makes a click with his fingers to try and fool the amateur umpire at the other end of the pitch into giving the batsman out. That is simply crude. I am not talking about the 4th team front row forward who twists in the scrum…

I am talking about athletes competing at the very top of their games! I am talking about the competitor in Curling at the recent Winter Olympics, who was sent home for testing positive for a performance enhancing drug! In Curling, for heaven’s sake!

Why?

I do believe that it is a complex issue on many levels.

First and foremost is public adulation. Sportsmen and women, champions, bathe in the limelight, they swim in the warm waters of a fawning public’s adoration. They love the attention, and the perks that their status brings.

Their stardom is pandered to by a fawning media and public relations industry, one that elevates their very comment to some kind of celebrity-status derived wisdom equivalent to the utterings of Einstein or Immanuel Kant. The paparazzi want the pictures, the social commentators hang on their every word. Their Facebook and Twitter accounts gather millions of followers.

The queue at the nightclub does not involve them, they are hustled straight past those who are waiting for admittance. The best table in the restaurant is theirs for the asking. The free tickets to a show, the upgraded seat on the airplane, the bottle of Champaign sent to their table by an adoring fan, the streams of groupies wanting a “selfie” with the star. There are the unwritten benefits of stardom too…

I am no psychologist, but I have accumulated some vague knowledge about the subject, hammered into me at various training courses I attended during my corporate career. I learned about Herzberg’s Theory of Motivation and those Motivating Factors called Status and Recognition!

I learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and that level called Esteem, with respect, status, recognition, strength, and freedom. I learned about McCelland’s Theory of Needs, and the Need for Power.

The recognition, on so many levels, afforded to a star, to a champion, seems to me to fit very neatly into those various theories.

I also do believe that the adulation and hero-worship afforded the stars leads them to believing that they are more important than your Average Joe, that their opinions are more important than anyone else’s opinions, and that they somehow hold the key to truth that is denied lesser mortals. When a movie star, someone who is very good at expressing the opinion of others as entertainment, suddenly starts to pontificate about matters political or economic. When a pop star becomes so important that they can demand six white kittens and a bowl of red roses in their changeroom, and then feel entitled to become an oracle lecturing the world on all manner of subjects. When a sports star starts to spout social theory, or religious cant, political wisdom .

When a famous person somehow feels that they are entitled to tell the rest of us how to run our lives.

That sense of entitlement that is derived from the adulation of the public, that sense of self-righteousness that comes with hero worship.

Those are part of the reasons why sportsmen and women are driven to cheat.

But they are just a part of the problem.

Sadly, I believe that the single biggest motivator for the win-at-all-costs ethos, and the increasing willingness to cheat for victory, lies in that one little thing, that device, that insidious necessity. The thing that the cliché places as the root of all evil. Money.

Professional sport has come a very long way since the days when there were separate entrances onto the cricketing ovals of England. One for the “Professionals”, and the other for “Gentlemen” – back then the professional sportsman or woman was considered somewhat less than acceptable in society. Servants, not really socially presentable.

Read Gordon Forbes’ book “A Handful of Summers” about the old amateur days of tennis, and how the players on the circuit would win vouchers for a jersey or some balls from a local sport shop, their tennis travels actually funded by taking ludicrous bets with the Secretary of the tournament they were playing at: “I bet you £10.00 you cannot jump over this pencil.” Those were the people who played tennis for the love of the game, for the lifestyle, and for fun.

Today, a tennis player expects to be paid for losing in the first round of Wimbledon! In 2017 the amount paid to a first round loser in both men’s and women’s singles was £35 000.00

That is a staggering amount of money for getting knocked out in the first round of a competition! £35 000.00! If a player progressed to the second round, and lost, they got £57 000.00. The third round, £90 000.00.

The winner in each of the singles categories took home £2 200 000.00!

Back in 1968 the winner of the Men’s Singles got just £2 000.00, whilst the winner of the Ladies’ singles earned a paltry £750.00.

Consider the eye-wateringly obscene amounts of money paid to footballers in the European leagues. Think of the enormous purses paid to professional boxers. The massive amounts the golfers earn, even when they are not regularly featured on the Leaderboard.

Consider then that someone like Steve Smith’s earning capacity is driven by his success on the cricket field. He had lucrative contracts as a “Weetbix Brand Ambassador,” a “Commonwealth Bank Ambassador” and sponsorships and contracts with various other clothing and equipment brands. He earned a salary from Cricket Australia in excess of A$2 000 000 per annum. His IPL Contract was worth A$2 400 000. Match fees amount to another substantial amount of money. Smith got paid A$23 000 per Test, A$7 000 per ODI, and A$5 000 per T20 game.

Just in terms of payments for playing cricket, without endorsements, ambassadorships, and appearance fees, book fees et al, Steve Smith was earning in excess of A$5 000 000 per year. (In South African Rand, that would be R50 000 000!)

David Warner, the purported Conspirator-in-Chief in the ball tampering saga, was on an A$2.4 million deal in the IPL, with Sunrisers Hyderabad. The Australian reports that David Warner has built a property portfolio worth A$10 million, and quotes him as saying in an interview two years ago: “My financial adviser told me: ‘If you have to work after cricket, I haven’t done my job properly’.”

Warner’s earnings from Cricket Australia totalled approximately A$2 million a year in recent years, again according to The Australian. Added to his annual IPL windfall, and he is heading over A$5 000 000 too!

Yet, the cricketers’ numbers are somewhat paltry when compared to stars in other global sports. Football’s Cristiano Ronaldo earns in excess of US$58 000 000 per annum. Lewis Hamilton’s Formula One contract earns him US$38 Million. Basketball’s Lebron James earns US$31,2 Million per year. Golf’s Rory McIlroy banks US$ 16 Million, Roger Federer had prizemoney of US$6 Million to bank in 2017.

Fair Reward

Have no doubt that I believe that sportsmen and women must be, and should be, adequately rewarded for their endeavours. Not only do they put in many many hours of blood, sweat, and pain to reach the highest levels of their sport, but they have to continually work to stay at the top with so many wannabes are clawing at their heels.

The rewards they earn should also be commensurate with the contribution they make to the public. To our entertainment, to our enjoyment of their performances, to the celebration of their skill when “our” team wins.

I do not, for one moment, deny their right to earn substantial rewards for their endeavours.

Take One Step Back

However, when we take a step back from examining the actual earnings of those sportspeople, we begin to see the effects that those eye-wateringly large amounts might, and do, have on the morals of some, perhaps even many, of the participants.

We begin to see some more of those motivational factors, those needs, that the eminent academic minds of Psychology tell of in their various theories. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs talks about Self-Actualization, becoming the most you can be. And if your self-actualization is measured in numbers, in money, and in the power you wield over the opinions of others, then we begin to understand some people’s desire to cheat.

Freddy Herzberg’s Theory of Motivation talks about the Sense of Personal Achievement. Again, in this sporting world the measurement of achievement by counting numbers….. money, victories.

The Desire To Win. (At All Costs!)

As I said earlier, I am no psychologist, but it does seem to me that the desire to succeed is driven by two things:

The need for Status, Esteem, Recognition, and Respect. The public adoration, the hero-worship and the trappings of fame.

Couple that to the need for self-actualization, power, the sense of personal achievement, most often measured in monetary terms, and you have the two motivating factors that drive some to go beyond what can be considered fair.

The star, the champion, the hero begins to have a sense of entitlement, some kind of God-given right to win. At all costs.

And if cheating helps to achieve that victory, to achieve the public adoration, that self-actualization………… Then it must be okay, or is it?