Friday, August 13, 2004

Stupid cheats

When I was a child I used to infuriate those who played games with me by insisting on playing to the rules. I would become enraged if others cheated -- no matter how small the infraction. I can remember throwing down my racket in a tennis game and storming from the court because my opponent so flagrantly called a ball out that was in that I could not stomach playing any more.

I simply could not understand what the use was in winning a game unless you won fairly. I suppose I lacked the killer spirit. But even to this day I cannot quite grasp why a sportsperson would want to win at all costs, when the winning itself is so clearly second best because they didn't keep to the rules. The rules are the game, in a very real sense. They are not there to prevent a player from enjoying the game but to be the very thing that the game is about overcoming. Where is the joy in a game won unless it involves that overcoming?

When Kostas Kederis won the 200m gold four years ago, my first reaction -- and that of the sceptical everywhere -- was "he must have cheated". The idea that Greece could produce a guy good enough, and I'll say it, a white guy at that (I'll say it because although there may not be any inherent reason black guys win at sprinting, they generally do and the only way you could imagine Greeece winning a gold in sprinting would be to borrow an athlete Qatar-style), was astonishing. Perhaps I don't follow athletics closely enough to know where he came from. In any case, the impression was doubled by the success of Ekaterina Thanou in grabbing silver in the 100m.

Well, I put the scepticism aside, of course. The guy has gone on to perform well and Thanou performs at the top level today. They must have been tested between then and now...

Reading that these very symbols of Greek prowess are under a cloud is depressing. A huge shadow hangs over a Games that most are already thinking will be tainted by the scandal over designer steroids that has engulfed the US team and others (including the UK's premier sprinter, Dwayne Chambers), and other doping incidents that fill the papers, not least the problems affecting the Aussie cycling team and the continuing rumours that follow stars such as Ian Thorpe and Lleyton Hewitt.

I love the Olympics. I love the notion that these are the world's best, pushing themselves to the limit in a range of disciplines. I love the competition and I cheer as wildly as anyone for the Brits (although of course I usually get little to cheer about). I do understand the motivation to cheat, especially when you are not quite good enough or, more so, when you feel you are but those who are your peers are cheating first.

But I did not call my opponent's balls out when they were in to level the playing field, as it were. Of corse, nothing was at stake except honour.


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