Artful dodgers at work

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The Independent Online
IF THERE was a time when sports fans saw their heroes as respected, clean-living, fair-minded, team-spirited, young men who typified the way they felt people should live and behave, somebody should tell us when this saintly perspective prevailed.

The impression held here is that they have never much given a damn as long as their team wins. As for fair-minded ideals, malevolent provocateurs and artful dodgers have been hoodwinking the authorities and the audience ever since victory became an imperative.

One of the things we have to remember is that none of us knows what's really going on out there. Another is that laws forbidding intentional violence and fakery are often difficult to enforce without a lie detector. Facetiously it has been suggested that before a game the players of each team draw up in ranks along the touchline, lift their right hands and solemnly pledge not to deceive or attempt to deceive anybody. This would, of course, cause a great deal of embarrassment in football boardrooms and rugby pavilions throughout the land.

Currently, Gordon Durie, the Tottenham Hotspur and Scotland footballer, is being required to prove himself innocent of misconduct, allegedly feigning injury during last week's home game against Coventry City, the first case of its kind to be brought in British football. 'Gordon is not the type to take a dive,' Doug Livermore, the Tottenham coach, said, when it was announced that Durie, who was booked, had been reported to the Football Association.

From afar, Imran Khan said something similar this week when asked to comment on bitter suspicions that Pakistan's cricketers gained a decisive advantage over England's batsmen by tampering with the ball.

Whatever emerges from an issue that again calls the workings of the International Cricket Council into serious question, all we can sensibly discuss is where sport stands in the matter of ethics.

To more people than would admit it, there is at the back of the mind a notion of banished innocence, the sports world as Babylon, where anything goes, where everything has its price. It seems clear enough, yet the chances are that there is more misinformation on this subject than on any other topic in sport.

When coaches talk about pride, emotion and momentum all the time it begins to dawn on us that the material scales are weighted against honesty. Men of otherwise unimpeachable integrity, devoted parents and trusted friends, choose to ignore the patently obvious results of an ill-timed shot until the umpire's finger is raised. Footballers who work unstintingly for charity don't think twice about lunging in with an intimidatory boot. The most honoured managers, men of wise and independent virtue, are invariably pragmatists. 'Aye, he's a hard boy,' growled the late Bill Shankly when shown the bloody results of a tackle delivered by one of his players.

The fact is that sport is no more willing than it has ever been to abandon ploys that offend spirit as well as law. Insofar as it convinces the players that their mentors are working hard and therefore contributes to their own peace of mind and concentration, it is largely harmless. The problem is that it contains the seeds of its own destruction.

This may sound like any other criticism but the use of performance-enhancing drugs, still a festering problem in athletics, is cheating on a grand scale.

The essential qualifications for success in sport are what they have always been, talent, physical hardihood, self-reliance, cheerfulness in the face of adversity, and acceptance of bad luck. Those who aren't prepared for the hazards have nowhere to turn for sympathy.

Some of the fault, it may be said, lies with the stupidity of the rule makers, the indescribably muddy prose which conceals the meaning of the code, and muddle- headed administrators who don't understand it. Nevertheless cheating remains an indefensible idiocy that cries out aloud for clearer guidelines.