In the space of just a couple of weeks three articles appeared in the press devoted entirely to the subject of cheating. I should add as a point of clarification, that we are talking both sport and the company boardrooms; the inner citadels of the banking world and the committee rooms of parliament. In short, humans seem to be genetically programmed to lie and cheat if it means we can get one step ahead of our competitors. Social morality, individual conscience and the rule of law are in there somewhere, but they invariably seem to play second fiddle when status and fortune are on the table. Nothing new here then. But what is new is the renewed willingness of journalists, sporting and otherwise, to bring it all out in the open. Journalistic exposures of big time cheating probably really got off the ground with Watergate, and has continued apace through a never-ending stream of corporate scandals with celebrated cases like Guinness, Enron, Maxwell and Madoff recently making the headlines. Exposures of political cheating are plentiful also; Bill Clinton's denials of sexual misdemeanours being among the most ludicrous and entertaining. Here in the UK we have our very own parliamentary expenses scandal, enough lying and cheating there to keep us going for years. And of course we have not forgotten Blair and his doggy WMD dossier which led to an illegal war with Iraq and the inconvenient deaths of some million or so Iraqi citizens, and all in the name of civilization and democracy. A spot of cheating and double dealing in the world's financial institutions is currently occupying our minds, a dishonesty which, incidentally, has resulted in a world wide recession and countless millions of people losing their livelihoods. Toxic debt has entered the public lexicon. Sudden, journalists are digging into financial skulduggery on a global scale via the offshore tax havens and other tax evasion scams, all of which can only be described as corporate cheating on a gigantic and unprecedented scale Where all this leads us I'm not entirely sure? Is it a good thing that all our institutions; sporting, governmental and business are increasingly coming under the microscope, all the better that they start to become accountable to us, the long abused citizenry? Or is it that, according to Will Hutton, writing in the Observer 27/09/09, We now live in a society so cynical that cheating has become the norm. Before exploring Hutton's thesis in more detail, it is worth musing on the merits or otherwise of the, Cheating in Sport Glossary, an A-Z of cheating, produced by Tom Lamont for The Observer Sports Monthly (Nov2009). The glossary is a good read throughout, reminding the reader of some of the more infamous cheating episodes over the years but doing so with a humorous bent. Take for example the entry under T. Under the heading, toilet breaks, we learn, a cunning but completely legal way to disrupt an opponent's momentum in tennis and an even more ruthlessly manipulated in chess. In the past decade, several amateur players have been caught in the loo consulting miniature chess computers (in one case a cheater was caught when an official stood on the bowl in a neighbouring stall and looked over the dividing wall) At a higher level, the game was rocked in 2006 by accusations that the world chess champion Vladimir Kramnik was visiting the toilet suspiciously often, up to 50 times a game, but no wrongdoing was proved.The strange thing is, while reading through this A-Z of cheating, my response was not one of outrage but rather of a warm, feel-good sensation, with the re-occurring and reassuring thought, well that's sport for you. By the end of the glossary I felt the humour had dulled my sense of injustice and, as Simon Barnes of The Times 25/09/09 might suggest, I was now complicit in these routine sporting crimes. These serious breeches of morality were, as presented in this light-hearted glossary, just a bit of fun. Sport, I felt, still occupied the moral high ground and these were just a few bad examples of humans getting a little carried away. Good sense and good administration would prevail in the end. Sport would always come out smelling of roses. Simon Barnes has a rather pessimistic take on cheating in sport and his argument is difficult to refute. His basic position is simple: no matter how sordid and corrupt sport becomes we will continue to buy into it, and further more, professional sport knows we will continue to buy into it. In fact, according to Barnes, the greater the scandal the more likely we are to tune in. We are addicted. Sport has us where it wants us..The harder we condemn the more we watch. Barnes cites the corruption and outright cheating in Formula 1, Rugby Union and Premier League Football as perfect examples of how cheating has no bearing on our willingness to sign up to the circus of professional sport. Barnes argues that we have, a moral helplessness in the face of vast corporations and enormous sums of money. But it is his observations regarding the Tour de France that provides the tour de force of his argument. Barnes writes, sport is incapable of destroying itself no matter how hard it tries. No event in sport could be so bereft of credibility as the Tour de France, yet it not only carries on, it is bigger than ever. It seems that the unending scandals add to, rather than take from, its fascinations. So, no matter how far into the gutter sport drags itself, sport regularly gets to us against our better judgement. 


The majority of sports journalists rarely step outside of their proscribed box, chatting endlessly about this match and that match, this race and the next race but in the end saying nothing. A few have the daring, the prestige and the political and philosophical perspective to say something interesting and Simon Barnes and Matthew Syed from The Times are definitely in that category as is David Conn from The Guardian. For most sports journalists, it is simply a question of filling the back pages, meeting the deadlines and picking up the pay cheque at the end of the month. Hutton is different. Hutton is a respected economics commentator so he is freer to do what most sports journalists cannot. Hutton is free to make some important links between what's happening in sport and what is happening in society at large. And this he does with much persuasive power.The essence of Hutton's thesis is that cheating has become so rife amongst the elites in sport, in business and in governance, and that the rest of us see no alternative but to follow along. The leaders set the tone; the rest follow and so cheating becomes the norm. Hutton seeks to explain the political ideology behind our cheating culture. For Hutton it's all about market fundamentalism so adored by US theorists and so passionately followed by Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The market is always right and you can't buck the market. Hutton expands, So, for a generation, a line has been peddled that the number one value is individual freedom unbounded by society or state. This they said is the route to human happiness and economic efficiency. Hutton continues, The raw political power that allowed a financial oligarchy to rig western finance to create personal fortunes exceeding the great aristocratic dynasties went unchallenged. Hutton concludes, The outstripping of the top 0.1% from the rest  in sport and business alike- has undermined the core belief in reciprocity on which association and rule keeping depends. Hence we arrive at a universal culture of cheating.Where does this core belief of reciprocity , that Hutton refers to come from? Citing Marc Hauser, Harvard professor and director of the Cognitive Evolution Laboratory and one of the world's leading experts on fairness, Hutton makes the following case. After setting standard tests for a quarter of a million people from 120 countries he ( Huaser) believes that human beings everywhere are born with an innate disposition not to intend harm. It is a result common to Amazonian Indians or pensioners in South Korea. Hutton continues, This instinct broadens into wanting not to cheat, and instead to co-operate. It is a capacity the species once needed for its survival. If a stranger could not be trusted to keep to the group's rules when humans lived in caves as hunter-gatherers, it was a matter of life and death. The question that presents itself from this research is whether humans still need to co-operate to survive or have we evolved to the point where it's everyone for themselves. I suspect that while we will never be rid of the dialectic between individual gain and collective endeavour, as our world becomes more integrated and our problems more global, the need to co-operate and remain within the rules will be more pressing rather than less. So while Hutton conclusions are somewhat dispiriting, I take a more positive view. For me, cheating, rather than being located in our socio-political and economic present, should be seen more as a core feature of our tribal past, a past of which we have not yet fully emerged.This was a past where life was short and brutish and scarcity was the order of the day. Collective responsibility and the voluntary subordination of our individual desires, especially where they conflict with the common good, is our future. It will be the future modus operandi that will be forced onto us humans by the global nature of the challenges that confront us; global warming being the most immediate. As the oft used clich has it; if we continue to act individually we will surely perish collectively. With environmental, nuclear and pandemic catastrophe looming large, that future is pretty well now. There is an economic basis to this future of collective responsibility and a world without cheating ,that derives directly from the philosophy of Karl Marx. Remember him? His was not some utopian dream, but, he argued, the natural outcome of humans overcoming scarcity and moving into an epoch of material abundance and overwhelming control over nature. Why cheat if society has reached such a level of material abundance that it can offer anything you might reasonably desire? Of course, cynics would point to the word reasonable and argue that humans will never agree on what is a reasonable demand. History will be the one to officiate on that one, but in the meantime we can expect a whole lot more cheating to be going on.End JPK 1/11/09 Email your comments on this and other articles to 

Last Updated ( Monday, 28 May 2018 16:01 )