A helping hand? Sportsmanship and cheating

Sunday 31 October, 3.45pm until 5.15pm, Lecture Theatre 2

From players deliberately handling the ball to gain advantage and feigning injury to get opponents sent off in the World Cup to spot-betting in cricket, cheating is a hot topic. Uruguay’s Luis Suarez came in for criticism for his professional foul against Ghana, punching the ball off the line. The fact Uruguay went on to win the match rather than getting their just deserts was particularly galling to many people. A lack of sportsmanship is not confined to football. From batsmen in cricket who refuse to walk to ‘bloodgate’ and eye gouging in the supposed gentleman’s sport of Rugby Union, it seems anything goes these days to try to gain an advantage in sport.

There are repeated complaints from some quarters that the commercialisation and professionalisation of sport is eroding its ethos of achieving excellence while playing by the rules. Others counter that the real ethos of sport is winning at any cost, and it is up to referees and umpires to spot and punish infringements. Suggested methods range from the use of video technology, greater use of adjudication panels and even criminal proceedings for dangerous play. Elsewhere, bodies such as the FA try to foster a sportsmanlike atmosphere by rewarding clubs and individuals for ‘Fair Play’, regardless of whether they’re losers on the pitch. Meanwhile, off the pitch allegations of business corruption, betting rings and the use of performance enhancing drugs continue to cast a shadow.

Should we worry about this culture of cheating and hark back to a golden age of sport when the code of behaviour and honesty was more important than the result? Or did this golden age never exist? Is the professional foul an integral part of sport? Does the obsession with cheating risk undermining the competitive excitement of sport, or does even the hint of unfair advantage sour the greatest victory?

Listen to session audio:


Dr Debanjan Chakrabarti
head, Intercultural Dialogue Programme, British Council, India; obsessive cricketer

Rebecca Jenkins
cultural historian and novelist; Royal Literary Fund Fellow; former writing partner of Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins

Amol Rajan
columnist, Independent titles; advisor to Evgeny Lebedev; author, Twirlymen: the unlikely history of cricket’s greatest spin doctors

Matthew Syed
former Olympian; columnist, The Times; author, Bounce: how champions are made

Geoff Kidder
director, membership and events, Academy of Ideas; convenor, IoI Book Club; IoI’s resident expert in all sporting matters

Produced by
Geoff Kidder director, membership and events, Academy of Ideas; convenor, IoI Book Club; IoI’s resident expert in all sporting matters
Recommended readings
Cheating? To be fair, it is cricket

There is nothing new nor alien about cricketing scandals; the sport of Empire has always been torn between high morals and low tactics.

Mick Hume, spiked, 2 September 2010

Why all the fuss?

Randiv and the Sri Lankan cricket board apologise for the Sehwag episode, but cricket is not alien to deliberate errors

Amit Gupta, Bangalore Mirror, 19 August 2010

Why is cheating OK in football?

Germany's goalkeeper admitted fooling the referee, but players shouldn't be exempt from ethical criticism for actions on the pitch

Peter Singer, Guardian, 30 June 2010

Why do sportsmen cheat?

High-profile cases of cheating and gamesmanship have dominated the backpages in recent weeks, but why do competitors feel compelled to seek an unfair advantage?

Jon Barbuti, BBC, 1 October 2009

Sir Jackie Stewart: F1 cheating scandal will cripple us

The legendary Sir Jackie Stewart slams the 'self-destructive' behaviour of the sport.

STV, 18 September 2009

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