Sporting Integrity: What Counts As Cheating?

By | December 13, 2010

football-stadiumWe are told a lot about ‘cheating’ and ‘corruption’ in sport but there is no real definition.  Do we mean something which goes over the criminal offence boundary (clearly) and/or something which is unacceptable on another, even moral level?

Is it something to be judged ‘in its time’?

1. What is cheating in sport?

I was at a most interesting event hosted by FrontRow Legal at Elland Road last week.  The speakers were open and thought-provoking with their views on ‘Sporting Integrity vs The Lure of Money’.  Rick Parry, former chief exec of the FA Premier League was a key speaker along with Ian Smith, legal director of the Professional Cricketers’ Association, Anthony Clavane – the Sunday Mirror sports journalist, and Alan Smart who has a security consultancy.

The point was well made that our views of cheating and corruption have changed over time.

2. Views of cheating in sport change over time

Take Leeds City Football Club which was kicked out of the Football League in 1920 for fielding non registered players in a non-competitive series of games during World War I.  It probably wouldn’t raise an eyebrow now but was clearly severely disapproved of then.

Even the 1936 abdication crisis would probably be little more than tabloid gossip now!  Where does promising a vote for, say, hosting the World Cup and then going back on the promise fit in – is it really cheating or corruption?

Gambling in sport clearly can result in cheating (arguably Pakistan’s cricket team) and this can align to corruption.  Rick Parry feels very strongly that cheating to lose is a very different phenomenon – and influenced by gambling – from cheating to win, which comes from being highly competitive.

3. Sport governing bodies must lead

Rick Parry and his committee’s report on a Sports Betting Integrity Panel concludes that every sport governing body has to have rules fit for its purpose and appropriate but proportionate disciplinary powers.  There should be a pan-sport ‘integrity unit’ and that all sports should educate participants from an early age.

The most important is education – showing young sportsmen and women the serious dangers and repercussions of cheating and training them on how to avoid pitfalls.

4. Education will change the culture of cheating

Education has the capacity to breed an ethic and responsibility that becomes a driving force.  As an example, education about drink driving and its effects has, albeit over 40 years, changed perception of drink driving from being ‘harmless’ in the main to being ‘criminal’ in the true sense of the word.  Most people now see drink driving as morally appalling behaviour rather than just a regulatory tool for the police which anyone could fall foul of.

I would certainly see education as the starting point to cleaning up much of the mess that the sports world is currently in.  But who is going to take the lead to make it happen?

About Chris Gale

Chris graduated from University College Cardiff in 1977 and qualified as a solicitor in 1980. He moved to academia in 1990 with an appointment at the Polytechnic of North London and joined Leeds Metropolitan University (Leeds Law School) in 1994, becoming head of undergraduate studies and being responsible for profiling, timetabling and staff development across the School. He joined Bradford University Law School as the inaugural Director of Legal Studies in July 2005.

Specialties: Human rights, Sport and the Law, Public Confidence in the Legal System

6 thoughts on “Sporting Integrity: What Counts As Cheating?


    In response to this article, i run the uk coaching network. A site that looks into youth coaching and addresses the problems of the current game.

    If we look at the youngsters playing and affect their outlook some of these problems would go.

    We dont use referees, we ask kids to be honest!

    We dont tell kids what to do on the pitch – they work it out for themselves and feed back what they have learned.

    Football is in danger of losing its community purpose. Most people access football like no other sport for reasons other than simple enjoyment of a game; its cultural, its ingrained in people, past down through generations.

    Take breakaway clubs such as FC United, AFC Wimbledon and their success.

    Why doesnt someone set up Leeds City Football Club again?

    Football and sport in general should be for promotion of good values not for corruption, poor ethos, poor role models and negative attitudes.

    Football can and should provide young people with access to safe, learning, fun environments – the opposite is happening – football is becoming a tool for seeking fortune, winning at all costs, and negative role models.

    Mark Senior

  2. Chris Gale

    Very interesting and relevant comments here Mark, thanks. I’m very interested in seeing that the type ‘education’ I speak of in the blog and which is implicit in Rick Parry’s committee’s report is actually already in use -AND seemingly working!

  3. Jonathan Moss

    I think whatever angle you put on this, it all boils to one thing, too much money in the game. You can educate young players all you want to have integrity. But as soon as they get a contract at 18, buy a range rover, and start living the playboy lifestyle they soon forget whatever morals they had.

    Lets be honest, the game is riddled with uneducated morons like Wayne Rooney and John Terry etc, who sadly, are looked up to by young kids across the country.

    Former Student.

  4. Brendan Guilfoyle

    I agree education is the key, I think the PFA have a big role to play in educating professional footballers and the FA in filtering it down to grass roots.
    Player wages are in the long term unsustainable so inevitably in time for the vast majority of players the playboy lifestyle will not be available, but there will always be a few idiots.

  5. richard cramer

    This is a very interesting blog. The seminar highlighted the need for greater powers to be given to SGB’s. Please check out our web site blog page to refer to recent events in the last 7 days.
    The subject of corruption is highly topical and the recommendations from the Rick Parry Report now need to be addressed by the government.

    Richard Cramer

  6. Chris Bentley

    Agree completely with Mark Senior.

    What we view as cheating has evolved over time in much the same way as what we view as ethical generally has evolved over time, but that fluidity shouldn’t stop us from applying common sense. When a snooker player owns up to a foul that the no one saw, we correctly view that as being honourable (and actually we have this view irrespective of whether he would actually have broken a rule of the game by not owning up). When a footballer pretends to writhe around in pain then jumps up and carries on then that is ‘cheating’, and it’s also setting an ignoble example.

    I’m not sure there is anything fundamentally different about cheating to lose as against cheating to win. In both cases the player is prostituting him or herself for a narrow benefit. I think that a lot of the debate and confusion around cheating is resolvable by looking at the opposite – what would have constituted honourable behavior – because people generally find this much easier to identify and agree on.

    The Japanese have a concept of ‘the nobility of failure’. Doing the right thing but losing is far more admirable than doing the wrong thing and winning.

    Very good blog. Jonathan Moss of course rightly points out the elephant in the room. Until we as a society start to value honourable behavior over material reward and to shame cheating then our educators and governing bodies have a real uphill struggle.

    Which is no reason not to keep trying, of course

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