Mind Games: When cheats rule the roost in sport

2014-07-13 15:00

If ever proof were needed that the Corinthian ideal of sport is dead and buried, it is to be seen in the unfolding of the Fifa World Cup in Brazil.

We cling to the notion that sport is good and pure, demonstrating all the honourable traits humans are capable of, when in fact these lofty ideals are but a myth.

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Sport is foul, shot through with evil intent and nefarious deeds because of the worship of Mammon that seems to have overtaken most games and the people who participate in them or manage them.

Arjen Robben’s bald-faced admission that he deliberately dives to dupe referees and secure unwarranted penalties was met with no censure from Fifa and hardly any shame on the part of the Dutch team, its supporters or officials.

Mexico’s coach Miguel Herrera labelled Robben a cheat, but his objections were rejected as the moaning of a sore loser.

There was no denunciation of Colombian defender Juan Zúñiga for what looked like an act of common assault, a deliberate knee in the back when he had no chance of reaching the ball, that took Brazil’s key man Neymar out of the tournament.

Instead of castigating Luis Suárez for the disgrace he brought on his country by biting an opponent, Uruguay president José Mujica called Fifa a bunch of old sons of b***es and labelled the player’s banning “fascist”.

From performance-enhancing drugs to match-fixing and ball-tampering, the determination to gain an edge and to win at all costs by fair means or foul has tainted all sport, and there seems to be no will among administrators to get back on the high road.

High-profile cases involving the likes of Hansie Cronje, Lance Armstrong, Lou Vincent, match-fixer Wilson Raj Perumal and the immoral goings on in any number of football nations, including our own, make the headlines, but the culture of bending the rules is insidious.

It manifests in less frowned-upon ways that still break the law.

Rugby people, myself included, have been quite smug, condemning soccer players in the World Cup for their constant deceit in feigning fouls and injuries – but is it really that different from the oval-ball game?

Week in and week out, rules are broken in rugby, but instead of moving to ensure matches are played according to the laws of the game, offenders are more often praised for trying to gain an edge and for being clever.

Edging ahead of the offside line, going off one’s feet at a tackle to win the ball, holding a player back, advancing ahead of the kicker, twisting in the scrum and barging in the line-outs are not allowed – but they go on all the time and might even be actively encouraged by coaches.

Players are praised if they are able to “get away with it” and the Australians were frowned upon for having had the temerity to call the great Richie McCaw a cheat.

Rugby has had its share of biting incidents and even though the “spear” or “lift” tackle has been outlawed by decree from on high, it continues to happen. Why? Because often players get away with it – the aim seems to be not to play to the law, but to beat the law.

What sport needs is the application of the “broken-window theory” in which players who transgress the rules are frowned upon and disciplined, rather than the current situation in which they are actually encouraged.

It is perhaps too late, but the ideal was best stated by the late PJ Boatwright, one of the foremost experts on the rules, who wrote that to play golf one needed only three rules: “Play the course as you find it, play the ball as it lies, and if you can’t do either, do what’s fair.”

If only that were the case in all sport.

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