Acceptable Cheating v Unacceptable Behaviour.

One of the hotter topics in cricket over the last fifty years or so has been whether a player should walk when he knows he is out, or whether he should wait for the umpire to give him out. However minimal the contact, however faint the edge, a batsman always knows when he has hit the ball.

The professional game used to be divided into “walkers” or “non-walkers” and it was generally accepted that to walk when you knew you were out, even if you suspected that the umpire would have given you the benefit of the doubt, was the highest form of sportsmanship, and showed a high degree of moral rectitude. Because cricket was not only old-fashioned, but also had claims as the quintessentially English game, there was an expectation that an amateur or a gentleman would walk, because that was the “right” thing to do, but that a professional would probably wait for the umpires decision. In short, you could trust a proper chap to do the right thing, whereas someone from the lower classes could not be relied upon to have any moral compass at all.

Except it was seldom quite as simple as that, for I knew a few players who had wonderful reputations and were held to be absolute paragons who would cynically trade on that reputation.  To establish a reputation as someone who would always give yourself out, but to then play on that to hoodwink the official at a critical moment is a pretty advanced form of cheating, but I saw it happen enough times to make me feel that the practice of “walking” should be removed from the game, and that all decisions should be left to the umpire.

If morality could be so easily manipulated, I came to believe that all moral judgements should be removed from sport. I have no time at all for those who claim the moral high-ground by dint of birth, status and schooling only to dissemble and gain advantage by unfair means. The law is the law, and better to stick to the letter rather than the spirit, if those that genuinely try to be honest are disadvantaged by those who don’t.  That is why I am so in favour of technology as it leads to better decision-making, and better decision lead to fairer results.

There is another article to be written about the whole issue of drugs and doping, and I have at times often wondered whether it would be better to just allow a total free for all, but that is for another day. For now though it is enough to say that sportsmen will always try to get away with what they can.

Rugby players learn quickly to play the referee, to work out what transgressions they can get away with, what laws a particular referee will not seek to enforce. So do footballers, and we know from watching The Arsenal how quickly rotational fouling is employed once a side senses they can get away with it. These are not on-the-field snap decisions:  coaches spend plenty of time briefing players on who to foul, where best to stray offside, how off-the-ball runs may be most effectively and invisibly blocked.

I don’t have advanced knowledge of all sports, but would bet my life that all sports have their own nefarious practices: as players we quickly learn the dark arts if we wish to survive, for few things are as competitive as professional sport, and without carefully drawn-up laws and efficient refereeing games soon become a jungle. And that jungle becomes red in tooth and claw if you rely on the players to interpret the laws equally fairly.

Which I suppose brings me quite neatly to that bite, which has caused predictable outrage, and an outpouring of moral relativism not often seen in such magnitude beyond A-level philosophy essays.

It seems to me that if you support Liverpool FC or Uruguay it is perfectly appropriate to claim that there are plenty worse things than a not altogether friendly nip that go unpunished: career-ending tackles and casually swung elbows have been paraded with enthusiasm as justifications for why biting an opponent is not that bad. Equally, if you do not support Liverpool or Uruguay, and especially if you feel that as an English-speaking white man you are the sole guardian of moral rectitude in a dangerously immoral and worryingly foreign world then the bite is seen as a mortal sin and one that can only be adequately punished by eternal banishment.  And I am not certain how those two positions can ever be properly reconciled, because both carry so much baggage with them that it is perhaps just best to acknowledge that sometimes there is no absolute right and wrong

What does interest me rather more is the way that just as most societies have their own set of taboos, so too do most sports and I find it fascinating to see what is and what is not considered to be acceptable. Biting, for example, is not especially frowned on in Rugby Football, and while it is probably best not to know everything that goes on in the scrum, I have seen enough nibbled ears to realise that cannibalism is alive and well in the Home Counties. But should a player stick out a foot to trip up a flying three-quarter then all hell breaks loose in the rugby world. It is just not done, and anyone that maintains such behaviour is soon hounded out.

Likewise in cricket: a bowler may legitimately seek to kill a batsman by bowling short-pitched bouncers , and this is seen as an acceptable and admired part of the game; should the same bowler seek to do so by not pitching the ball at all but aiming it full toss at the head then that is strictly off-limits.

A boxer may rain un-defended blows on his opponent’s head and reduce him to a vegetative state and he will be considered a hero: throw a punch below the belt and he’ll soon be cast as pantomime villain.

Footballers lie and cheat on a regular basis: they claim throw-ins and corners, they dive and simulate injury and this is not only all fine but actively encouraged.  They may seek to break their opponent’s leg, and that is OK too, but they must not punch, gouge or bite, for that is not OK.

Taboo trumps relativism, and societies (and the football society is no different) police those taboos strictly and seriously. However ridiculous and logic defying it might be, anyone that seeks to defend the breaking of a taboo will be seen to be so far at odds with the values of that society that all their opinions will, by extension, be deemed risible.

The point about Louis Suarez is not that what he did was particularly bad, but rather that he was unable to stop himself doing something he knew was considered wrong by the rest of his tribe: that he immediately sought to divert attention from his behaviour by feigning injury was proof enough to me that he realised he had crossed an invisible but all-important line.



Today’s post was given to us by  @foreverhaedy (Ex professional cricketer) 

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104 comments on “Acceptable Cheating v Unacceptable Behaviour.

  1. It was more the amount of doping that was the problem Dex. He was changing body shape quicker than The Incredible Hulk.


  2. Yeah, but they were all (well most) at it Georgey.


  3. So Alexis Sanchez asks Howard Webb to be fair and impartial in his refereeing of a football match – against the hosts…hmm…



  4. Is it not also unacceptable that on many occasions bans are decided on public reaction rather than rules already laid down, sort of a make it up as you go along approach. As hunter and others have pointed out this approach is already being used for tv evidence and where you can use it.
    Patrick Barclay has an excellent piece in Fridays evening standard about how refs should wise up to tactical fouling, a dark art ARSENAL has suffered from more than most for many years now. Tactical fouling is decided before the game as opposed to a red mist action which happens when someone loses control.
    In law we punish the premeditated harder than a reaction, in sport it seems its the other way around


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