IF there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching and playing sports, it’s that your character shows in the way you compete.
Sport is a very public and honest venue that reveals more than just how you prepare yourself, play by the rules, or treat your fellow human beings. The spontaneity and unpredictability of a contest or race always brings to surface the best and worst of people who engage in it, whether as supporters, spectators, or participants. Which is why I take exception to those who consciously and purposely (perhaps even purposefully) choose to deceive others if only to gain an advantage, and eventually ascend the podium steps to claim victory for an undeserved performance.
What eludes most of us as far as learning from others’ mistakes are the reasons why cheating continues. You wonder what motivates people to even attempt to finagle their way to an empty victory. And yet it continues to happen. I can probably hypothesize the reasons for cheating, but this is not an article on social anthropology. I’m just here to talk about cheaters.
Play For Pay: In More Ways Than One
As a marketing assistant at the start my corporate career, I came face-to-face with the reality of sports payola when I was assigned to cover a basketball championship series in the professional league. Here’s the scenario: It’s Game Two of the best-of-seven series and the opposing team is ahead by a game. In full gopher mode (gopher coffee, gopher cigarettes, etc.), my task is simple: hand out product samples to the camera men and production staff of the company doing the television coverage of the games, so that they would pan and focus their cameras on our brand’s streamers and other marketing materials scattered throughout the coliseum. Done with this chore and with some time to spare before the start of the game, my superior and I walk across the sports complex to a hole-in-the-wall frequented by sports scribes for a couple of cold ones. While sipping on our second round, no less than the head coach of the opposing team walks into the smoke-filled dive, carrying what looks like a ream of cigarettes under his arm. My superior, who knows the coach, waves him over and invites him to join us for a round. Coach politely turns down the invite and gives us a knowing smile, saying: ‘You’re going to win tonight.’ That remark takes us both by surprise, and my superior manages an amused, ‘What makes you say that, Coach?’ Coach says nothing, and proceeds to open the cigarette box he’s holding. It’s densely packed, but not with cigarettes. Even his team is betting on our team to win tonight. Later that evening, as I watched from my seat near courtside, my mind tried to come to grips with the reality of pay-offs in the professional league, a phenomenon that wouldn’t seem as remarkable anymore after that most vivid and jarring of experiences. As the game entered the pivotal fourth quarter with the score keeping everyone on edge, I watched the match through jaded eyes, knowing what the eventual outcome would be. In the years that followed, I learned more about the workings of the pay-for-play system in its most hideous forms, where players, referees, coaches, and seemingly anyone who could alter the outcome of the game were involved.
Cheating takes on many appearances. Having a caddy toss your ball off the rough and into the green while no one is looking, starting a fight to get key players thrown out, or using non-regulation equipment (or banned substances) for an added advantage illustrate the lengths some athletes and their handlers will go just to win. Lance Armstrong, Tonya Harding, and the Spanish men’s Paralympic basketball team are names that will go down in infamy for their counterproductive contributions to the world of sports.
But let’s look closer to home, and bring up some examples of poor sportsmanship, flaunting of rules, and downright deception in endurance and multi-sport.
At a recent duathlon, participants noticed a duo of cyclists drafting off each other, with the cyclist in front (let’s call him Mr. Puller) wearing a cycling kit of a prominent race sponsor. This didn’t seem unusual, since it was a draft legal race - until it was discovered that Mr. Puller, an elite level duathlete, was not a registered participant. Mr. Puller had no business being anywhere within the racecourse, yet there he was leading one of the participants through the course aboard their two-man pace line. Why, he even had the gall to stick around after the race and award the winners.
Hitching To Get Ahead
A full-distance triathlon (3.8k swim/180k bike/42k run) is nothing to sneeze at, so when one of the participants was introduced to the rest of the racers as someone with remarkable leg power (Mr. Powers) who cycles an impressively long distance every day, one couldn’t help but take notice. As the race progressed from the swim to the bike and to the run leg, the great impression turned out to be short-lived. No less than the race director, who was out checking on participants and logistics along the run course, caught Mr. Powers getting into a vehicle to more than cool his heels. Was this the same person who claimed he cycled from Cagayan De Oro to Bohol to make the race? Even this astonishing feat was now subject to skepticism after Mr. Powers was discovered ‘running’ the marathon portion on gas and four wheels. Needless to say, he was promptly disqualified and given a lifetime ban from the event.
A Curious Case of Identity ‘Theft’
The Talented Mr. Rip-off nearly accomplished an assumed identity shenanigan, had it not been for the vigilance of race organizers during a recent out-of-town triathlon. Mr. Rip-off, who wasn’t registered, tried to pass himself off as a registered participant (let’s call him Mr. Real) by using Mr. Real’s race number and showing an altered ID on his mobile phone, with the convenient excuse of having forgotten his wallet at his hotel. The ID presented was a facsimile of Mr. Real’s driver’s license, but with Mr. Rip-off’s photo in place of Mr. Real. As Mr. Rip-off’s true identity is not a secret in the multi-sport community, the race organizers phoned Mr. Real and asked where he was. After Mr. Real (a teammate of Mr. Rip-off) admitted he was not at the race venue (He was in Manila), he was asked to return his race kit. Race organizers were beside themselves when they discovered the ruse. Mr. Rip-off had no choice but to return the race kit. End of story, right? Not quite. Mr. Rip-off apparently didn’t want his efforts and training to go to waste, so he inserted himself during the sprint swim leg and was also seen traversing the bike course — as a bandit. The race director was urged to impose a lifetime ban on Mr. Rip-off for his deliberate effort to deceive the race organizers, but chose to exercise maximum tolerance in dealing with this transgression. One can imagine the race director waving his finger at the two deceivers saying, ‘Uy, falsification of documents are grounds for imprisonment, not to mention a lifetime ban from our races. Think, and think hard before you try pulling off another con in the future.’
Elite Athlete, Fiendish Attitude
Poor sportsmanship qualifies as cheating in my book. Take the case of Mr. Elite triathlete who, during the run leg, knocks over the cups of water at the aid station after having his fill, hoping to leave nothing but empty cups for those closely in pursuit. Aid stations volunteers would scramble to fill up the cups, while Mr. Elite buys himself extra time and an extended lead. The same athlete has been known to take unapologetic potshots at other athletes on social network sites. He pins his hopes on creating enough negative buzz for others to draw attention away from him, as he is also known within triathlon circles to employ unfair techniques and strategies, if only to win.
Schadenfreude and Karma
Schadenfreude is a German word (direct English translation ‘Fail Joy’ or ‘Damage Joy’) whose definition is the pleasure derived from the misfortune of others (source: Wikipedia). As much as most would want to deny it, a number of people take a perverted pleasure in seeing others fail. There is a silent rejoicing and unparalleled glee that overcomes those who are witness to the failings of others, which range from a simple public-humiliating face plant to the more elaborate media-hogging declaration of business bankruptcy.
Schadenfreude is not something to be encouraged nor propagated, but sometimes may be the only comfort the passive and silent majority can wrap themselves up in when the cheaters in their midst are caught and exposed for all to see. Retribution comes to collect in designs both punitive and puny.
And for those who do believe: Karma is a big, fat, hairy bitch when she finally comes around and bites you in the ass.
You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.
Attributed to US President Abraham Lincoln