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Why do cheaters cheat?

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Why do cheaters cheat?

Guzzling a few grapes in the supermarket and not paying for them…

Illegally streaming a TV show…

Taking performance enhancing drugs.

Quite different actions and hard to compare, but all against the rules. And we all know it. The first two might be considered by some to be ‘victimless crimes’, or at least crimes against people who can afford to be stolen from.

You may well have done something similar to the first one yourself. And I’m sure many people you know have done the second one. In fact, a recent survey suggests that a third of football fans in the UK had illegally streamed matches in the past year.

Stealing and cheating are crimes as old as humanity itself. And of course, there is a spectrum of criminality, both legally and morally. To take the illegal streaming example, I’ve heard people justify it by saying that they’re not taking a physical ‘thing’, so the company doesn’t have any less stock to sell.

A weak argument I think, as each person who doesn’t pay is depriving the supplier of income. Some may also complain about high costs, but high costs or a business being wealthy aren’t reasons to take something without paying.

I think that ultimately people believe that they won’t get caught and so there won’t be consequences.

Cheating in sport isn’t quite the same, but what makes people flex their moral fibre is interesting. The grape-pinching and show-stealing are both crimes where the effect of your individual action in isolation is relatively small, and also the company affected doesn’t have a face that you have to, erm, come face to face with.

In sport though, you’ll probably know the person or people that your cheating has affected. You’ve stood opposite them or seen them next to you as your unearned advantage takes you past them in the podium pecking order.

This means that you can’t convince yourself that cheating is victimless because you can literally see the victim. So what makes some sportspeople cheat?

At the elite level, small margins matter. Millimetres and milliseconds can make one player a millionaire, and another an also-ran. Players and coaches are understandably always looking for the small gains, the incremental improvements.

If a supplement is legal, can make a difference and, perhaps crucially, the rest of field is taking it, it makes sense to take it. Otherwise, you might find yourself at a disadvantage. The same applies to the tweaks made to a bike that squeeze the most from a race. I’m sure that some cheating starts off as stretching the limits of what’s allowed. Pushing what’s acceptable and hoping not to go too far (or at least not be found to be doing so).

Winning in sport can bring wealth, fame, adoration and respect, among other accolades. These potential prizes can make it tempting to bend the rules or blatantly flout them, but at what age does that kind of decision come into play?

At school, you hope that that the focus would be on fun and fair play. Young kids playing sport in school aren’t generally cheating in the systematic way that some adult professionals do, but are the building blocks for this temptation put in place early on?

A survey of 1,000 children aged 8-16 found that over half would be prepared to cheat to win. I was shocked by this, but then I’m neither a sportsman nor very competitive.

Is a proclivity for cheating defined by personal values, opportunity or pressure? It’s probably a combination, but it’s important to reinforce the importance of fair play at an early age. My recollections of P.E. at school were of a world where winning was key. In more recent years, wider efforts have been made to promote sport for fun, particularly in a world of widening waistbands that needs everyone to get active.

Whether we participate to compete or just for enjoyment, is there enough emphasis on playing the RIGHT way? I want my sporting idols to play fair because they think it’s right, not simply because they might get caught.

There are ever-increasing numbers of stories about fairness in sport, from drugs to financial impropriety. Efforts are being made by governing bodies to address them and though the task is sizable, it will bring about improvements.

But in Clean Sport Week (11-17 July), it’s important to remember that a desire to play sport in the right spirit is one that can, and should be encouraged and developed from an early age, at the very start of a child’s sporting journey.

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The Commonality of Kindness

The Commonality of Kindness

You’ll have heard the story by now.  On Sunday, an Englishman was helped out of a tight spot by a Welshman. I like to think there’s a certain poetic quality to having the ‘dragon’ being the good guy on St George’s Day…

But this is not a tale of nationality, but one of sportsmanship and human kindness.

Matthew Rees, from Swansea Harriers, was 300 metres from the end of his London Marathon effort when he spotted David Wyeth struggling to reach the finishing line.  Actually, struggling doesn’t really do it justice.  David’s body was shot.  He’d given everything and his limbs really could do no more.  Without assistance, he’d have become a human road bump.  Fortunately, help was at hand in the shape of a fellow runner.

Matthew had already completed over 42,000 metres and had been struggling with an injury himself when he spied his fellow athlete in distress with a short distance left to run.  As the TV pictures showed, a number of runners ran past David before Matthew helped out.  Many of these runners may well have been blinkered by the sight of the end approaching and many more may have underestimated David’s plight.

running men

I’m not suggesting that any of the other runners were remiss in not lending a hand and would absolutely echo everything that’s been said about Matthew’s selflessness, as well as about the community spirit that evidently exists within the sport.  David said in interviews afterwards in fact, that he wasn’t surprised to receive help as runners tend to look out for each other, adding that the cameras caught an act of kindness that wasn’t unusual to those in the running fraternity.

There is no doubt that Matthew acted selflessly and deserves the attention and credit given to him. Like many, I found this story more inspiring and of more interest than who won overall.  What I find interesting is that an act of kindness like this is considered exceptional. So, where strangers are concerned, at least, is kindness uncommon?

The commentary could have run something like this, “There’s a runner really struggling here, it’s not looking good for him to finish the race with only metres to go. Oh, but there’s another runner stopping to help him get over the line. Well done.” Aside from being proof that I would make a lousy commentator, my point is that this could have been all that was said, just a simple acknowledgement of everyday altruism.

I can’t pretend to know what I’d have done myself, had I been in Matthew’s shoes.  I would like to say I’d have stepped in and helped out.

But would I have done so?  Would you?

We can all say we’d behave in this way or that, but if tested, it would be fascinating to see how we’d really behave. That’s the thing, you see. We rightly praise Matthew’s sportsmanship, but we notice and highlight it because it’s unusually positive behaviour.  If we were all as helpful as we could be, we wouldn’t notice stories like this (except of course this one happened so publicly)

Are we to think that acts that (I would believe) fall into the common decency category are in fact examples of going ‘above and beyond’? The exception, rather than the rule? And if being kind is exceptional rather than expected, does this elevate selflessness to the point where it’s considered ‘normal’ behaviour for us to be more self-involved and therefore behave less thoughtfully?

Clearly, Matthew and David’s marathon story is not a common occurrence that we call relate to directly, but I would hope that my metaphorical neighbour would lend a hand if it were needed and that I would do the same in return.  And not only should kindness be forthcoming, it really shouldn’t be as surprising when it is.

In short, it’s important that kindness continues to be rewarded and recognised, particularly in an increasing inward-looking, isolationist world, but it would be nice if being kind to one another was normal rather than news.

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