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. (http://registration.olympic.org/en/faq/detail/id/28)
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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