Tuesday, 3 April 2012

C is for Cheating

This weekend’s exceptional Premier League action contained two particular instances that caught my eye. The first occurred in the Manchester City vs Sunderland game, with the score at 1-0 to Sunderland. City’s Bosnian striker, Edin Dzeko, received the ball on the left-hand side of the pitch, dribbled inside the area and turned inside the defender, Craig Gardner. Dzeko made sure there was contact between the two players and threw himself to the floor, winning a penalty for his team. Analysts have been divided on the matter of whether it was a penalty or not, but either way the replay clearly showed that Dzeko started to dive before Gardner touched him. 

Andy Carroll goes to ground on Sunday
The second incident occurred during the Newcastle vs Liverpool game, with the score at 0-0. Liverpool’s £35m striker Andy Carroll received the ball just inside the opposition’s half, headed it past a defender and through the legs of the final defender. With only the goalkeeper to beat Carroll knocked the ball to the side of Tim Krul and theatrically dived as he went past him. This time the replays showed that there was clearly no contact between the players, and Carroll was rightly booked for diving.

Whilst these two penalty appeals are significantly different, I’d have no problems with them being treated them the same way. In both cases the attacking player anticipated the contact and started to go to ground before they were touched. Of course Carroll’s judgement in this case was significantly worse than Dzeko’s, but in my eyes both players clearly dived and should’ve been booked for their actions.

How cheating is perceived around the world

The infamous 'hand of God'
In the 1986 World Cup quarter final against England Diego Maradona infamously scored with his hand, leaping above England goalkeeper Peter Shilton and punching the ball into the net. In a post match interview Maradona claimed that the goal had been scored with “a mano de Dios”, the hand of God. Four minutes after the 'hand of God' Maradona scored one of the greatest goal in football’s history, yet his first goal in the game, illegally scored but given by the referee, is celebrated as much as his second in his home country of Argentina.

In many parts of South America cheating in football is accepted, even celebrated, as long as the player in question isn’t caught by the officials. As Tim Vickery explained in an excellent article on the BBC several years ago, the attitude towards conning officials in Latin America is vastly different to that in Britain, and in any case England can’t claim the moral high ground in footballing terms. Whilst I personally find the notion of intentionally cheating detestable, I also think it’s important to learn about and remember these cultural differences when commentating on the matter.

Why do sports people continue to cheat?

Cheating in top level sport happens for a variety of reasons, with the clearest occurences being when the rewards significantly outweigh the potential punishment. Going back to the instance of diving in football, if a player is caught they’re usually given a yellow card, which is a fairly minor punishment. On the other hand if a player manages to con the referee their team receives a penalty, with a high probability of a goal being scored.

The other main reason for cheating is pressure. Professional sportspeople are put under immense pressure to perform, and sometimes they resort to underhand tactics to try to ensure they achieve the desired result. This fascinating article from The Guardian tells the story of how the Russian pentathlete, Boris Onischenko, attempted to deceive the officials in the 1976 Montreal Olympics by using an electronic device in his épée. 

How can we stop cheating?

The obvious way to limit cheating would be to make the punishment significantly harsher than the potential reward. At the moment there is no retrospective punishment for diving in football, however If footballers were given a 3-match ban for clear instances of diving, as well as a significant fine, some of them would surely think twice before they go to ground. Significant instances of cheating, or repeat offenders, should be given lifetime bans in their respective sports.

It’s unlikely that cheating could ever be fully eliminated from sports, but it can certainly be limited if the governing bodies were stronger in their approach towards it. With the current technology available it’s harder than ever to get away with deceptions, so there is definitiely hope for a brighter future where we can be confident of our favourite athletes all playing within the rules.


  1. I very in-depth breakdown on cheating, Evan. Since I'm not a massive sports fan I find cheating kinda funny, but I do agree that the punishments should be greater in some instances. It goes against the essence of sport to win by cheating. How can a person who's won by cheating every feel any real accomplishment?

  2. People in life clearly have vastly different moral standards. Even at the social level I play sports at a number of players still feel compelled to bend the rules. In the indoor soccer league I play in opposition players regularly claim for throw-ins when they're the last to touch the ball (as do some of my teammates).

    I enjoy a game of pool on a night out, and have seen friends commit minor offences (e.g. accidently touching a ball) without owning up. I can't do likewise, but am pretty sure that I'm in the minority in this approach. It seems that the desire for many people to win far outweighs the desire to particpate in a fair game.

    The ends should never be used to justify the means, but I think people have become are pretty adept at blocking negative feelings out. C'est la vie...

  3. Diving in football drives me crazy. I'm not sure some of the top flight players would even notices the fine going out of their bank account though. A ban, certainly, but perhaps fine the club, stop this climate of cheating at the source, cause I doubt the managers are completely complicit in some of these dives.

  4. I agree, have a look at this one at 1:17 in!

    Oh and by the way NZ were the only unbeaten team in the tournament.