Do Cheats Prosper?

5 Jun

‘The only difference between a saint and a sinner is that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.’ Oscar Wilde

As Justin Gatlin, the much-banned drugs cheat won the grand prix 100 metres in Rome last night, equalling Usain Bolt’s track record of 9.75seconds, Oscar Wilde’s prophetic words echoed round the sporting world. Cheats really do prosper, it seems.

Of course it’s easier to gain advantage where brute strength, lung power and ignorance are involved – rowing cycling, track and field, weight lifting etc. If subtlety, team-play, decision-making, versatility and complex tactics are involved, testosterone alone won’t do the job. If it did we might have a shout in the World Cup. Mind you footballers and cricketers have been pretty good at throwing games or no-balling for cash in recent times.

Which, of course, brings us to FIFA and Blattergate. And Alberto Salazar. The recent Panorama programme questioned the purity of Alan Wells’s meteoric rise to the 100metres gold medal in Moscow. And so it all goes. As scandal succeeds scandal why are we so surprised that cheating is pervasive, universal?

We use the word cheat from a young age. Kids cheat at party games, board games, in exams. We lie quite a lot too. Lying and cheating are integral parts of some cultures – they are a part of trying to achieve the best result. But sport should be different shouldn’t it? We revere the Corinthian values of sportsmanship and fair play. Our recent sporting icons are unimpeachable – Hoy, Redgrave, Ennis-Hill, Farrah…ah, are we sure about this? A previous generation had team players who carried the banner of integrity – Charlton, Moore, Cowdrey, Brearley and we liked those with spunk, a bit of devil – Botham, Best, Gazza – flawed geniuses. Now money is power and you cheat to get the best result.

Ever since Tommy Simpson fell off his bike I have thought that cycling was cursed with cheats. Athletics has been plagued for just as long. There are different types and levels of cheating too. FIFA adopt the bribery/money laundering approach, Lance Armstrong the medical – but in 21st century competiton humans will go to extraordinary lengths for glory (ie fame and riches). Nice guys do come second and it’s such a pity that this is the case. I want to believe in free and fair competition. When, in January, New England Patriots deflated their footballs to get one over Indianapolis Colts, I laughed. It was absurd. I should have cried.

I hope, still, that sport can rise above the general culture of cheats prospering. Daily, however, examples abound of those in positions of trust and power, abusing it. Whether it’s Libor-rate fixes, tax dodges, MPs’ expenses, Phone tapping, Rolf Harris, killer-nurses, Hillsborough police-chiefs, …gosh it’s a never-ending list. Even Bill Clinton regained his Presidency after giving Monica one.

Bobby Charlton and I share a birthday. Now there was a real, world class, unimpeachable, nice guy – who won without cheating.

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