Whilst it is a quaint and quixotic feeling to hold a child-like belief in the integrity of sport and its ideals; the reality is intrinsically more disappointing and disheartening. We would all like to believe in the Corinthian spirit and hold true to its inherent nature and embodiments. The “Corinthians”, for the uninitiated, were an old Association Football (soccer) team in England during the 19th century. They believed that the essence of sport came from fair play and sportsmanship. The team would, for example, upon conceding a penalty kick, withdraw their goalkeeper, leave the goal open and allow the other team to score unimpeded. Yes! Those days did exist. The world we reside in today is so much different. Friends have, over the years, expressed the view that this writer is an overly romantic dreamer, both in life and in sport, with an innate Corinthian spirit, who wistfully longs for a bygone age that probably never existed. This is true and he will happily continue to hold that view; however, it was tested to the very limit recently.
It was palpable shock to his system when, in your correspondent’s mind at least, the last bastion of fair play was breached. On Saturday the 24th March 2018, on a cricket field in South Africa, three international cricketers cheated and then in a press conference they admitted to the act. Nothing unusual in sportspeople cheating you may say; sadly they do it all the time. Lance Armstrong performed a wonderful imitation of a verbal tango before admitting his indiscretions. Ben Johnson’s victory in the 100 metres men’s sprint at the 1988 Olympics was something to behold. A tongue in cheek remark made recently in The Local suggested that Walgreen’s will have a drive by window at this year’s Tour de France; stop and go anyone? And finally the most innovative example of rule manipulation: in fencing, points are signaled by a light that indicates weapon-to-body contact. So when Boris Onischenko’s light went off without explanation during the fencing portion of the modern pentathlon at the 1976 Olympic Games, something wasn’t right. It turned out that he had manufactured an electric switch in his épée’s grip to activate the light manually. If it wasn’t so sad; we could laugh.
However, for athletes to deceive, get caught, sit in a press conference and admit their deceit was a new low. Should we admire their honesty? Should we forgive them for admitting their deceit, shedding a few tears, then say sorry to the children they let down and move on? The camera caught them in the act and they admitted their indiscretions; they had no choice but to commit the verbal equivalency of Japanese Seppuku. You may ask why all the furor and world condemnation?
In the rich idiom of the English language there are many phrases that are transplanted from sport and used in everyday life. Former President Bill Clinton brought it to notice in a State of The Union address; “When you commit a third violent crime, you will be put away, and put away for good. Three strikes, and you are out.” Cricket provides more than its fair share of phrases that have become part of everyday usage. When a batsman plays a shot in cricket it usually involves the bat being played straight and true; people living everyday lives generally try to behave in the same way. When a person makes a mistake, not cheating mind you, just a mistake, and admits their wrong doing and then owns up to the act; “they have played with a straight bat.” If something is not cricket; it’s unfair: you could say that letting a man go from his job via a text message is “just not cricket”. It’s not within the spirit of life or the game. People who administer cricket, play it, and watch it, profess to be the guardians of its ideals and would have us believe that the sport is the very quintessence of fair play. For this humble writer, all that recently disappeared like smoke in strong breeze. After that incident in South Africa, he has lost all vestige of hope and faith in sport. Who knows what is real anymore; do you?
In the world of Australian cricket it is said that the captain is the second most important man in the country, closely following the Prime Minister. Australians take their sports and their cricket very seriously. They play the game hard, and they are good at it. The standards are high; the rewards are great and, it must be said, so are the expectations. During that game in CapeTown a number of Australian cricketers cheated and brought shame and dishonour on themselves, the game and their country. The world that crashed down around them was of Samsonesque proportions. What did they do to warrant such condemnation? What was their crime that meant lepers were treated with greater respect in biblical times? The players in question altered or tampered with the ball and got caught. There was no evasion or casting blame on others; just an outright admission in front of the world that they concocted a plan to alter the ball. They cheated. Interestingly, confessions of guilt made by cheaters are only laid bare when the perpetrators are caught like a deer in the headlights; and just like infidelity in marriage there follows the usual recriminations, tears and pain.
For the uninitiated a cricket ball, similar to a baseball, is delivered at high speed towards a batsman; any deviation in flight can lull the batter into playing a false shot. Basically, the ball goes off line. Unlike a baseball, the seam on a cricket ball goes around the diameter effectively splitting it into two halves. The fielding team will try and keep one side of the ball smooth and in better condition. Atmospheric conditions will dictate which side of the ball moves quicker through the air, thereby inducing swing. Simple really: the rough side will move slower. The Australian cricketers in question concocted a plan to “rough up” one side of the ball with sandpaper.
The three players in question were sent home from South Africa and given bans by Cricket Australia of varying severity. The team’s coach resigned over the incident; though he was cleared of any wrongdoing. The Australian Captain Steve Smith and Vice-captain David Warner plotted, during a lunch break, to have junior player Cameron Bancroft illegally tamper with the ball. Bancroft used sandpaper while working on the ball in an illegal attempt to “scuff or rough” it. It was initially thought that he used yellow tape with grit as a makeshift piece of sandpaper, but two days later Cricket Australia, the governing body, revealed that it was indeed sandpaper. To make matters worse, he attempted to hide the evidence when he realised that the umpires were suspicious. He stuffed the sandpaper down his pants and then showed the umpires an innocuous piece of cloth in his pocket. Cameras captured it all and the match referee later charged him with ball tampering. Under Law 41 (cricket has laws not rules), subsection 3 of the Laws of Cricket, the ball may be polished without the use of an artificial substance, may be dried with a towel if it is wet, and have mud removed from it under supervision; all other actions which alter the condition of the ball are illegal. These are usually taken to include rubbing the ball on the ground, scuffing with a fingernail or other sharp object, or tampering with the seam of the ball. There it is: straight forward and clear has a bell.
People involved in sports will always strive to find an edge, push the boundaries, sail close to the wind, and skate on thin ice; you can find many analogies to illustrate the point. It is, to use the popular vernacular, “the nature of the beast”. And it certainly is a beast. However, very rarely as the subterfuge been so blatant and the admission of guilt been so swift. This then leads us to another question. Does anybody know what is real? There are allegations of state sponsored doping in Russia and the International Olympic Committee seemingly finding a way to accommodate it; an American football player allegedly used a deflated ball; baseball players have been known to use corked bats; a British cyclist wins the 2012 tour de France and an Olympic medal in the same year and is lionized throughout the world; he continuously looks up and wonders why it’s dark. That’s easy, I can tell him; it’s a cloud of suspicion that just won’t go away. We should of course also mention soccer players who dive in the penalty area and call it “simulation” in an attempt to deceive the referee? We should be honest and call it what it is: cheating. What are the answers? Whatever they are this bewildered writer can’t supply them. He wishes he could.
Does everybody cheat? Of course not. Is sportsmanship and fair play still prevalent? One would hope so and in a previous posting this writer highlighted the actions of Lutz Long at the 1936 Berlin Olympics games; however, in this day and age it’s difficult to hold the same faith. Occasionally it seems to be a Herculean task.
Your humble writer, for all his naivety and childlike views on the subject, believes that sport should be fun, honest, enjoyable and rewarding, whatever the level of contest, and his friends could well be right about his idealistic and child-like view; however, twas ever thus and he wouldn’t have it any other way. The old “Corinithians” approach may seem outdated and naive in today’s world and that’s sad. However, to lose the essence of the Corinthian spirit and its ideals would, in this writers view, lose the essence of what sport represents. The cricketers who cheated during the recent ball tampering incident did more than damage the hopes that this writer holds. They destroyed his faith. In a way they destroyed his last link with childhood. And that is the saddest aspect of the whole sorry saga.