Comment: A nation of whingers?

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The Independent Online
IT HAS become a commonplace among sports journalists to accuse the All Blacks of cheating. The New Zealanders' alleged sins range from mere gamesmanship - time-wasting, or obstructing opponents by returning too slowly from offside positions - to acts of violence which verge on the criminal, most notably the disgraceful raking last week of Philip de Glanville's eye.

Are the charges justified? On the whole, yes. The late tackles, the crooked feeds at scrums, the interference at the line-outs and the infringements which conveniently concede penalties rather than risk tries have been there for all to see. Before we raise too loud an outcry, though, there are a couple of points worth pondering.

The first is that, while the All Blacks do cheat, their opponents are not all white. The harsh fact is that modern top- class rugby is riddled with cheating - in Britain as much as anywhere else. Somewhere between school level and League level, nearly every player learns that you cannot win much line-out ball, or scrum ball, or even loose ball, by conscientiously obeying the laws of the game. Some also learn to obstruct, to intimidate and even to inflict deliberate injury in pursuit of victory.

No coaching manual explicitly recommends such practices, yet how many British club sides can honestly claim that none of their players is guilty of them? The elevation of winning above the mere satisfaction of playing the game has made what the commentators euphemistically call 'skulduggery' inevitable. Everyone cheats. The All Blacks are just better at it than we are (as they are at most other things).

The second point is that the current outcry against the All Blacks has an uncomfortably familiar ring to it. How did we react when England's footballers were trounced by the Netherlands? Graham Taylor, for once, caught the mood of the nation: 'The referee has not applied the laws of the game as we apply them honestly and openly in this country.' What did we do when our best female athletes were made to look ordinary at the World Championships by a bunch of unknowns from China? Accuse them of cheating, of course - just as we accused the Pakistani fast bowlers who humiliated our batsmen last year. Even Turkish policemen, it seems, don't play fair.

Accusing foreigners of cheating has become a national habit. Perhaps it is not an entirely new one; it is certainly not an attractive one. Nor is it a constructive response to our various sporting shortcomings. Ten years ago, it was fashionable to denigrate the British for producing 'good losers'. A good loser, the cliche went, is a loser; we want winners. Today, we have lost our ability to lose with good grace. We have not become any better at winning. Bad losers are losers too.