It's been another enthralling week for sports fans, and a real treat for those of us who find the cheating in sport almost more entertaining than the sport itself.
In rugby, the former Harlequins coach Dean Richards – previously found guilty of being called Dean, never a good career move in rugby circles – was banned from coaching for three years for faking his own players' injuries, and he was pictured in all newspapers looking shifty and overfed. At Lord's, it was reported that one of the Australian team had been approached by a man "suspected of links to illegal bookmaking" (presumably carrying a brown paper bag full of readies). And at the World Athletic Championships in Berlin, we marvelled at South Africa's Caster Semenya, teenage winner of the women's 800 metres and about as feminine-looking as Geoff Capes. The authorities are now compelling her to undergo rigorous sex testing, asking her trick questions about Barbie dolls and boy bands.
The femininity or otherwise of leading female athletes has long been a source of controversy, of course. Only last week, women runners were complaining that they will never be able to break world records set in the 1980s by steroid-enhanced athletes who could grow full beards and were often mistaken on the telephone for Tom Waits or James Earl Jones. Flo-Jo may have grown her nails to aerodynamically useful lengths, but we weren't fooled. There was one woman runner from eastern Europe who looked the spit of our own Steve Ovett, except more butch.
Flo-Jo died of a heart attack in mysterious circumstances at just 38, echoing the early demise of a number of successful cyclists who spent years denying they have taken drugs and then spontaneously exploded. I think most of us assume that if you took a blood sample from a bunch of competitive cyclists, a number would be so full of other stuff it would be a miracle if it was still red.
All this has been going on for ever. In the very first England vs Australia Test, W G Grace cheated so blatantly – running out a batsman who had stepped out of his crease to pat down a divot – that he inspired the Australians to an unlikely victory. The Tour de France may never have been clean. If it had been, it's been argued, the cyclists simply wouldn't be able to complete the race. In Formula 1, the public perception is that if one team becomes too successful, they change the rules. Is that cheating, or good business? What's the difference, anyway?
In rugby union, a game that has been in love with its own image for generations, cheating customarily takes the form of brutal physical violence that you hope no one will notice. Behaviour that outside the stadium would get you a custodial sentence is dismissed with an airy wave: that's the way the game is played.
But taking the biscuit must surely be football. Take Maradona's "Hand of God": in what other sport would that have been tolerated? Only in football is there the concept of the "professional foul". My favourite cheat is the way a player kicks the ball out of play and immediately raises his hand to claim the throw-in, corner kick or whatever. This is cheating so stupid it beggars belief. It is said that Americans have never taken football to heart because they can't bear all the cheating. Football haters like me think, "Right on." Football fans think, "What cheating?" It's so embedded in the game they don't see it any more.
But if one of their players were hauled off for gender testing, suspected of being insufficiently masculine, the fans might just spot that.Reuse content