Cheating  in  sport  is  a  violation  of  an  explicit  or implicit promise to follow the rules of a sporting activity. This promise is an honorable action that an athlete takes to assure the opponent, the fans, and all interested parties that the rules will be followed.  An  example  of  an  explicit  promise  is  the International  Olympic  Committee  oath  for  athletes.  The  oath  is  taken  by  one  athlete  representing all athletes from their home nation. The oath states,

In the name of all the competitors, I promise that we   shall   take   part   in   these   Olympic   Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them,  committing  ourselves  to  a  sport  without doping  and  without  drugs,  in  the  true  spirit  of sportsmanship, for the glory of the sport and the honour  of  our  teams.  (

An  implicit  promise  to  follow  the  rules  is  the unspoken, accepted conditions that a player agrees to do when playing. In many amateur sport competitions,  the  competitors,  captains,  or  coaches meet before the game begins and shake hands. The handshake is an implied agreement that each will play  well,  will  play  by  the  rules,  and  wishes  the other good luck.

Categories of Rules in Sport

The rules that athletes and coaches promise to follow come in three different categories, and athletes and coaches have numerous creative ways to violate  intentionally  both  the  spirit  and  the  letter  of these  rules.  The  rules  are  constitutive,  regulatory, and sportsmanship.

The  constitutive  rules  give  order  and  direction as to how the game is to be formed and how it is played. The constitutive rules are norm referenced and  give  boundaries  to  the  game.  For  example, consider the rule as to how long a game is played. In  softball,  three  outs  per  team  make  an  inning, seven  innings  for  a  game;  in  American  football, four  quarters  make  a  game,  and  each  quarter  is a  specific  number  of  minutes  of  play;  in  amateur basketball,  60  minutes  is  the  allotted  period  of play divided into two halves.

The  regulatory  rules  maintain  and  temper  the integrity  of  play  within  the  constitutive  rules. Regulatory rules are very useful but less fundamental. For example, in softball a player who is at bat cannot run to a base until a pitched ball is either hit or the ball reaches the catcher’s glove and four balls are called by the umpire. In American football, a player cannot leave the line of play until the offensive center hikes the ball to the quarterback. In amateur basketball, a player cannot advance the ball down the court without dribbling or passing the ball.

Players  accept  the  constitutive  and  regulatory rules as the guideline and give an implicit or explicit (verbal agreement) promise to follow these rules. Inadvertent violation of the playing rules, if caught by officials, results in a foul or rule break in  the  game.  Both  the  constitutive  and  regulatory rules are usually governed by umpires, referees, or game officials. Violation of a rule is not cheating. However,  intentional  violation  to  break  the  rules without  being  caught  is  a  violation  of  the  promise to accept the consequences of breaking a rule. An  example  of  cheating  of  constitutive  rules  in American  football  is  the  faked  injury  to  stop  the play clock. If a referee deems an athlete is injured, the referee must stop the play clock until the injured athlete  is  attended  to  and  removed  from  play. Even  though  a  rule  exists  against  faked  injuries, a team may conspire to have an athlete pretend to be  injured,  especially  if  the  play  clock  is  running out. The time clock stops, the player is treated and removed from play, and in the meantime the team uses the extra time to set up the next play and perhaps win. An example of cheating of the regulatory rules is the baseball pitcher altering the condition of the ball. The regulatory rules are specific as to the size, shape, and condition of the ball. Pitchers often change the condition of the ball by scuffing the surface with an abrasive located in their glove, hand, or pocket, or place goo on the ball.

Sportsmanship and Gamesmanship

A  player,  coach,  and  team  also  implicitly  promise  to  follow  the  spirit  of  sportsmanship,  which includes accepting the philosophy of fair play: the reason  for  rules’  existence.  Fundamentally,  the philosophy  of  fair  play  is  to  offer  each  team  and competitor  an  equal  opportunity  to  be  successful.  However,  coaches  often  break  their  implied promises through clever and artful techniques. For example, in 1928 a football coach tried to find a method  for  his  team  to  be  more  competitive  on the field of play. He looked through the rule book and  found  no  rules  that  limited  placing  artifacts on  the  players’  jerseys,  except  a  number  on  the back of the jersey. He cut footballs into halves, and sewed one half of a football on the front of all the backfield  players’  jerseys.  When  his  quarterback handed the ball off to a backfield member, everyone in the backfield had a football on his uniform. Because no rule existed to prevent the artful strategy, the coach violated the spirit of fair play in the ideal sense and he cheated.

The  artful  strategy  of  trying  to  get  around  the rules or push the rules beyond the letter is called gamesmanship.  Gamesmanship  often  borders  on cheating.  Most  players  accept  some  gamesmanship that occurs; however, there is an arbitrary line when  gamesmanship  becomes  cheating.  In  officiated  games,  players  learn  to  push  that  arbitrary line and not only play a game against their opponent but also play another game against the official.  The  players  use  the  rules  to  their  advantage and  challenge  the  official  to  catch  them  violating the letter and spirit of the rules. Players learn how much  they  can  get  away  with  when  pushing  the rules by learning how tight the game will be called by the official(s). Officials therefore must know the rules as well as know the ethos of how the game is played. The ethos, the essential nature of the game and how rules are interpreted, gives direction as to how much latitude the official uses in determining how  closely  the  rules  are  followed.  For  example, basketball is a no contact game; however, there is a great deal of contact that is accepted as part of playing the game. The ethos directs the officials to decide how much contact is accepted and what is not  accepted.  Within  this  game  climate,  knowing the difference between violating a rule and cheating  becomes  fuzzy.  The  players  and  officials  thus rely  greatly  on  the  written  rules,  the  spirit  of  the rules, and their game-to-game experience in deciding the difference.

Intentionally  violating  an  organizational  or institutional rule that governs the preparation for the game, including player training, is governed by a different set of rules. These sportsmanship rules are established by the governing body that oversees how  games  are  played.  The  goal  is  to  establish  a culture of fair play in which all players come to the game with a fair chance of being successful in playing  and  winning  the  contest,  all  of  which  is  also very arbitrary, depending on each team’s resources and genetics of the players themselves. A bobsled team from the Caribbean island of Trinidad would have  little  chance  at  success  considering  that  no bobsled track exists in Trinidad. However, Trinidad has fielded a bobsled team to the Olympic Games. The team’s chance of success is not necessarily fair. Players  thus  are  members  of  teams  and  both  the player and the team agree explicitly to follow the rules  established  by  the  organization  in  preparation  and  training  as  well  as  the  actual  playing  of game. When players and their teams intentionally violate these rules, cheating occurs.

The same issue occurs in the constitutive rules and  regulatory  game  rules—players  and  teams work  the  rules  to  gain  an  advantage;  rules  then become  more  explicit  and  officials  become  more aggressive  in  monitoring  whether  players  and teams are following the rules. A case in point is the rule  against  players  ingesting  or  injecting  banned performance-enhancing  drugs  or  supplements  to gain a physiological advantage. A player is always limited  by  genetic  predisposition,  and  no  matter how  much  practice  takes  place,  that  limit  cannot be overcome without some external chemical aid. Thus,  some  players  try  to  gain  that  additional advantage beyond their own physiological makeup and  choose  to  take  chemical  supplementation to  overcome  their  own  limitations.  The  practice is  almost  as  old  as  competitive  sport.  Since  the purpose  of  play  is  about  fair  play,  meaning  that everyone  should  have  the  same  degree  of  chance to perform well, most if not all governing bodies have  specific  lists  of  acceptable  and  unacceptable supplement  usage.  In  order  to  monitor  players, the organizations demand testing—including urine samples  and  in  some  cases  blood  samples—to check  if  players  are  following  the  rules.  Whole industries  have  been  developed  to  test,  track, record,  and  monitor  players;  the  World  AntiDoping Agency is one of them. However, again the problem  is  gamesmanship.  The  players  are  constantly  looking  for  an  advantage,  and  since  each human body has limitations, the players are looking for nutritional or chemical supplementation to overcome  physiological  and  genetic  limitations. The line again becomes fuzzy—which supplements are acceptable and which are not.

All  players  supposedly  are  acquainted  with cheating, but in some cases they choose to manipulate  and  stretch  the  rule.  The  way  sports  are played  and  played  out  often  makes  it  difficult  to admit that cheating is the intentional violation of a promise to play by both the spirit and the rules of the  game.  However,  cheating  is  always  the  intentional action of breaking a promise and violating the rules.


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