We 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?